On October 24, the University of Alberta announced that its deans and administrative units would move forward with budget planning assuming potential cuts of up to 9 per cent over the next three years, in order to eliminate a structural deficit of approximately $14 million.

Reed Larsen, the Vice-President External of the Students’ Union and Chair of the Council of Alberta University Students, says the potential cuts are the result of uncertainties around funding for post-secondary education. “The Government of Alberta is currently reviewing the post-secondary funding model, and we don’t know what that will look like. That means that the University is making much more conservative decisions around the budget because they don’t know what they’re going to receive in terms of their base grant or tuition revenue over the next three years.”

In 2016, the government of Alberta announced that tuition would be frozen until the end of the 2017-18 academic year. While that freeze kept the cost of education stable for University of Alberta students, it wasn’t accompanied by any backfill funding that would cover the gap created by inflation. Combined with the ongoing reviews of tuition and the base-grant funding for post-secondary institutions, the University has opted to make a conservative budget, operating under the assumption that they will not receive any increase in the Campus Alberta grant or tuition revenue.

The Students’ Union continues to advocate for long-term, sustainable funding that allows both students and institutions to accurately forecast their budgets. At the same time, in an interview with the Edmonton Journal, Provost Steve Dew admitted that the University had been aware of the structural deficit since 2013, but was only now taking steps to address the shortfall. “Yes, it would have been nice if we had solved it four years ago,” he said.

While the University’s final budget won’t be announced until March, students are obviously concerned about what impact these potential cuts could have. Dew said it was “a little too early” to say whether budget cuts could result in bigger class sizes or fewer course offerings.

Shane Scott, the Students’ Union’s Vice-President Academic, points out that uncertainty about tuition isn’t the only concern for students. “When students make the decision to come to the University of Alberta, they have certain expectations about the quality of education they’ll receive, but unexpected cuts can result in a depreciation their academic experience as they go through their degrees.”

It remains to be seen what the Government of Alberta has planned with regards to a long-term funding model for the province’s post-secondary institutions. Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt has previously said that the new funding model would be announced sometime this fall, in time for the 2018-19 budgeting process.