Alberta Budget 2020: Student leaders disappointed, but not surprised by government cuts
This article was previously published for the Calgary Journal. This article was written in collaboration with Brian Wells, Georgia Longphee, Hadeel Abdel-Nabi.
Post-secondary institutions in Alberta will take a big hit next year, with the government planning to spend $114 million less than what was budgeted last fall. In total, $2.2 billion has been earmarked for Campus Alberta Grants to schools, but some of that grant money will now be tied to performance measures.
Finance Minister Travis Toews said the new funding model will “provide base support to institutions, and then top that up with performance-based incentives.”
But student leaders criticized the government’s approach, calling it a shortsighted attack on the province’s students.
“I look at this budget like death by a thousand paper cuts or death by a thousand budget cuts,” said Shifrah Gadasmetti, the former executive director of the Council of Alberta University Students.
In addition to the change in funding, the budget includes more money for apprenticeship opportunities to encourage Albertans to pursue careers in skilled trades.
Since October’s budget, the government has made it clear that post-secondary institutions will have to earn a portion of their funding through performance measures while either reducing operating costs and or increasing revenue.
The UCP says that post-secondary institutions will be expected to fund 48 per cent of their costs by 2022-23 — a five per cent increase from what they contributed in the last year of the NDP government.
To make up this gap in funding, the government is allowing institutions to increase tuition by up to seven per cent each year until 2022-23. The government expects those tuition increases to bring in an extra $290 million in revenue this year.
Earlier this week, the Mount Royal University Board of Governors voted to increase tuition at that school by seven per cent for domestic students. The University of Calgary hiked their tuition five per cent back in January — a move which followed the removal of 250 positions at that school in November 2019.
Student representatives disappointed by second UCP budget
Jessica Revington, the University of Calgary’s Student Union president, said she’s disappointed the government looks at post-secondary only as a place to cut.
“It’s a narrative that we've seen time and time again,” Revington said. “I continue to be disappointed with the emphasis being placed on cuts rather than the value of post-secondary education."
Sadiya Nazir, the current chair of the Council of Alberta University Students, was in Edmonton for the budget announcement and said that while these cuts were expected, the impact on post-secondary institutions will still make waves.
“These cuts compounded with the cuts of fall 2019 will put institutions in a continuously difficult place as they are still trying to adjust to the in-year cut they already had,” Nazir said. “It's going to be up to institutions now to make sure that whatever mechanisms or avenues they are choosing to utilize in order to address the cuts that they ultimately won't negatively impact students.”
Some clarity on outcomes-based funding
2020 will mark the first phase of the government’s plan to shift away from equal funding across all schools in the province and instead towards the performance-based funding model.
Although a complete list of indicators has not been released, some existing measurements Advanced Education uses will be used in the model.
The ministry’s existing Graduate Outcome Survey will be one of the data sources used for the funding formula. A follow-up survey will give employers an opportunity to provide their perspective on how prepared they feel new graduates are for the jobs they’ve been hired for will also be factored into the formula.
Currently, post-secondary institutions and the government are in talks about how the formula will work. While funding agreements outlining how specific measurements will be weighed against each school’s performance have not been finalized, 15 per cent of the funds will be based on some combination of the provinces’ indicators.
Mount Royal University and the University of Calgary weren’t able to provide comments before the time of publication.
Other post-secondary budget highlights
Other budget items affecting post-secondary students include $288 million worth of capital spending planned for post-secondary institution infrastructure — a $175-million decrease since last fall.
This article was last updated at 8:24 p.m.