The Government of Alberta’s planned cuts to post-secondary education will have a “radical and perhaps even dangerous impact” on the province’s universities and colleges. This is the finding of a report released in October by the Parkland Institute written by University of Lethbridge professors Trevor Harrison and Richard Mueller.
The Parkland report—which was sponsored by the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations (CAFA) along with CUPE Alberta and AUPE Local 52—squares off against Alberta 2030: Building Skills for Jobs, the province’s 10-year plan to shift the focus of higher education to job skills and training.
“We have a provincial government that does not understand what universities and colleges are for: to educate the populace for career opportunities and enrich their lives,” said Kevin Kane, President of CAFA and a professor at the University of Alberta. “Instead, they want to co-opt post-secondary institutions for narrow corporate interests, to train people for entry-level jobs—and save corporations money.”
The Parkland report challenges the analysis of the 2019 MacKinnon report on Alberta’s finances, which provided the rationale for dramatic cuts to public services and formed the basis for many of the assumptions in Alberta 2030.
“They claim we pay more than Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia on post-secondary education,” said Kane. “But, in fact, the Parkland report offers a competent analysis of existing data to show that Alberta spends less, not more.”
Kane said that Alberta’s planned cuts to post-secondary education not only impact the quality of education but will also weaken research and long-term economic viability for the province.
“Discovery research is the vital pipeline that allows us to get a leg up on the competition to make major breakthroughs which may have economic benefits for the province,” said Kane. “That is not the way forward according to Alberta 2030, which de-emphasizes basic or discovery research in favour of short-term commercial development.”
The Parkland report projects that the $430-million projected cut to the post-secondary education budget in the province’s plan will result in much higher costs for students. The authors note that there is no plan to add the anticipated 40,000 student spaces the system will need to bring Alberta’s participation rate in PSE up to the national average.
Kane lauded the Parkland report for advocating for reinvestment in post-secondary education, as well as a “new model of democratic and collegial governance” which would allow for a greater participation of faculty and staff in decision-making—including budgeting—and restrict the power and influence of corporate interests.