Even after slashing post-secondary funding and with harsh cuts to seniors’ programs, the Alberta Conservative government posted its sixth consecutive deficit of $2 billion and tabled a March budget that relies on borrowing money for $4.3 billion in province-wide capital projects.
With falling oil revenues, Tory Finance Minister Doug Horner announced a cut of 7 per cent — amounting to $147 million — out of base operating grants to universities, colleges, and technical institutes, and effectively reneged on Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s promise last year of committed increases of 2 per cent for three years.
Rob Sutherland, president of the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations, called the cuts shocking in light of the province’s projected population growth and the promises made.
“Institutions planning their own budgets on the basis of these promised increases must now absorb a massive cut which will have a major effect on our ability to provide the kind of post-secondary opportunities Albertans want and deserve,” Sutherland said. “The cuts also run directly counter to the premier’s stated intention of making post-secondary education one of her government’s priorities.”
He warned that balanced research portfolios in Alberta’s universities are threatened, under the government’s results-based budgeting process, along with the long-term and compounding benefits of basic research across a wide range of disciplines.
“Research in our universities is not, and should not be, solely about producing short-term benefit to the Alberta economy; our universities were not set up for this purpose, and to insist that they align themselves more closely with the government’s economic agenda is simply misguided.”
Doug Short, president of the Alberta Colleges and Institutes Faculties Association, agreed that institutions were relying on the stability of promised increases in order to plan.
“The post-secondary sector appears to have been singled out in this budget. A 7.3 per cent cut to operating budgets will have an immediate effect on the classrooms, shops and labs, where Albertans are learning the skills and attributes to build our economy and our society,” he said.
Short said he’s pleased that $282 million over three years is slated for new facilities at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Norquest College, University of Calgary, Lethbridge College and Mount Royal University.
The budget also revealed increased funding for student loans, a $250,000 addition to the province’s scholarship program, and a new grant for low-income students.
However, the Summer Temporary Employment Program, worth $7 million, has been terminated. The program helped fund summer employment opportunities in Alberta’s nonprofit sector for post-secondary students.