Upwards of 500 protestors marched from the University of Alberta campus to the provincial legislature March 15, 2013. [Dan McKechnie/urbanobscure.com]
The University of Alberta board of governors has warned Premier Alison Redford in an open letter that the deep cuts announced in last month’s provincial budget will have a “detrimental effect,” setting the institution back many years.
“The recent budget decision of the provincial government to cut the university’s funding by more than seven per cent will have a dramatic effect on the progress that the UofA has made in reaching its potential, both as a research and a teaching institution,” states the letter.
About $43 million will be chopped from the university’s budget, with negative impacts on students, faculty and support staff that are “difficult to imagine,” according to the letter signed by 12 governors, including chancellor Ralph Young.
Rob Sutherland, president of the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations, said hundreds of students and concerned Albertans have since rallied in protest on the steps of the provincial legislature, while other student unions and academic staff associations across the province are holding town halls to mobilize further action.
Calling it a “crisis point,” UofA president Indira Samarasekera has informed Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk that because of the cuts, the budget for central administration at the school will take a 3 per cent hit, and faculties 1.5 per cent each, with resulting layoffs.
“Such a significant cut will have consequences on overall quality both in terms of student experience and our ability to attract and retain top talent,” she wrote in the university’s official blog in late March.
All 26 post-secondaries in Alberta face the same percentage funding reduction, and “layoffs, hiring freezes, larger class sizes, reduced enrolment and program closures are already being discussed,” Sutherland said.
Ministerial “letters of expectation” to the 26 institutions emphasize not only a need for increased co-operation under the Campus Alberta brand to eliminate duplication and a commitment to more and shared online learning, but also promotion of research that dovetails with economic goals.
“The government’s stated desire to dictate academic and research priorities has met with a storm of criticism,” Sutherland said.
“Particularly disturbing is using a budget crunch as an enabler to force the post-secondary institutions to sign on to the Redford government’s plan for a comprehensive reorganization of the post-secondary system to ensure it is more closely aligned with the province’s priorities.”
The heads of all 26 universities and colleges in Alberta are meeting with Lukaszuk this month, and Sutherland hopes continued protest in the interim will send a message to the government.