Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci’s first budget on October 27 was greeted with cautious optimism from the post-secondary community.
The budget is a reversal of the Progressive Conservative government’s announced cuts of 1.4 per cent this year, and 2.7 per cent next year, to the operating grants of post-secondary institutions.
The NDP government vows to provide stable funding for universities and colleges with 2 per cent increases in the next two years.
Doug Short, President of the Alberta Colleges & Institutes Faculties Association, is encouraged by the government’s commitment to post-secondary education, especially given the difficult financial situation for Alberta at the present time.
“The restoration of a previously announced cutback of 1.4% in base funding and a forward looking commitment to 2% per year funding increases over the next two years is a positive direction for advanced education as a comprehensive examination of Campus Alberta is initiated,” said Short.
Mark McCutcheon, President of the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations, said that while the new money for this year and next come as very welcome news, “these increases won’t plug all the holes in university budgets that have been left by the prior government’s devastating 2013 cuts, and by the failure of successive recent governments to honour their stated commitments to stable, predictable, multi-year investment – exacerbated by rising costs.”
The two-year increases will provide breathing space, said McCutcheon, while a longer-term plan for sustainable post-secondary education is developed.
“But the government’s finances depend heavily on energy prices, and so may not improve anytime soon. Meanwhile, the continuing squeeze on institutional budgets means program closures, job losses, larger class sizes, and an overall reduction in capacity and quality at our institutions,” warned McCutcheon.
Students welcomed the good news of a two-year tuition freeze, a promise delivered in the NDP platform during the April election. The budget also rolls back the tuition fee increases tied to market modifiers for twenty-five programs, including business, law, and pharmacy.
The budget also heeds the advice from the report on infrastructure by former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge to spur investment on public infrastructure, which includes a $581 million boost for campus infrastructure.
“This commitment to continue building on our campuses, despite the volatile provincial revenues, is rationalized as making good business sense when labour and borrowing costs are low in order to stimulate the provincial economy,” said McCutcheon, “but it is hard to reconcile with the loss of intellectual capital that has resulted from the forced downsizing of our institutions over the past several years.”
Short said the Alberta Colleges & Institutes Faculties Association looks forward to working with the government and many stakeholders in the comprehensive examination of Campus Alberta.
The Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations gives credit to the government for engaging in meaningful, productive consultation with post-secondary groups, including academic faculty and staff, in its review of advanced learning.