This content was summarized in a newsletter to undergraduate students at the University of Alberta on February 25, 2022, titled: "The Alberta budget special edition: What it means for us.”
Does Budget 2022 make the cost of post-secondary education more affordable? No. We are worse off now than we were four years ago. Students will continue to pay all-time highs for tuition and are saddled with some of the highest debt in the country. Budget 2022 falls short of supporting students and improving Advanced Education in Alberta. Program quality and delivery may continue to decline as enrollment growth continues to stress programs, staff, faculty and our public education institutions.
As students, the provincial budget impacts our daily lives. Budget decisions help or haunt students for years and sometimes decades. Your financial burden depends on how long you need to pay back student loans or how much financial stress you can afford.
This government has a history of defunding education in Alberta which always hits students hard. Budget 2022 falls short of fixing the damage done by the 2019, 2020 and 2021 provincial budget cuts. The U of A is being cut by another $52 million, which brings total cuts to $222 million.
There’s a $500-million surplus in the 2022 budget that has not been allocated, which sadly shows that none of the cuts had to happen. The U of A has already done what it can to restructure and spend less, which has come at the cost of jobs, student mental health and program quality. It’s unfair to cut the U of A further and push more costs onto students.
There’s a lot more the provincial government can do to support students. We need more investment in Alberta’s Advanced Education.
Here’s what Budget 2022 means for us:
$52 million cut to the University of Alberta
- This is an unnecessary cut that will continue to affect program quality, student services and accessibility, job security for already precarious staff and faculty as well as the U of A’s ability to thoroughly support student learning and conduct research.
$56 million to University of Alberta’s Dentistry Pharmacy Building
- Will be used for the renovations of the building consistent with the 2020 and 2021 provincial budgets.
$171 million investment into post-secondary education over the next three years
- That’s $57 million per year, split between the various post-secondary institutions in Alberta. This will be used to expand enrolment, not to improve program quality or services for existing students.
- If you’re a current student, this is unlikely to benefit you personally.
$6 million over three years to create ~1,200 work placements
- That’s $2 million per year, and doesn’t come close to matching the Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP) program that was cut in 2019. STEP offered summer jobs to 10 times the number of students (~12,000) and had a 2018 budget of $10 million.
- We hope you DO benefit from these work placements but programming that existed prior to 2019 funded more student jobs.
- Youth account for half of all jobs lost during the pandemic. We need a budget and strategic plan that helps get more students back to work.
$5 million to increase training opportunities for Indigenous people
- These initiatives may help some Indigenous learners achieve their academic and career goals, but there’s a long way to go.
- Education is a treaty right. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s post secondary education calls to action 62 (parts ii and iii) and 64, that address the provincial government have not yet been fulfilled in Alberta.
$12 million over three years for existing scholarships
- That’s $4-million per year and we hope this does support your studies. However, scholarships are not a replacement for strong post secondary education funding and robust student financial aid systems.
$15 million in grants and bursaries for low-income students studying in qualified high demand programs
- This is a step in the right direction, but with some problems. Student financial aid should NOT be allocated based on what the government decides is a high demand program. Grants and bursaries for low income students are the foundation of accessibility and shouldn’t come with strings attached.
- There will be more funding available for low income students to apply for next year IF you meet the government’s (so-far undefined) “high demand” criteria.
$30 million for enhancing apprenticeship programs and opportunities
- These funds will benefit only 300 students in the emerging tech sector and a few hundred more in the Women Building Futures programs.
- These funds are beneficial to new students and the economic outlook of some women. They are not an adequate replacement for significant long term investments in all sectors of post-secondary education.
$8 million over three years to develop micro-credential programs and $8 million to expand reskilling and upskilling
- This will help some students get access to short-term programs as tech continues to change quickly and moves towards greater automation and digitalization.
Operations funding and Foundational Learning supports increase by 3.8% and 3.3% respectively
- This might look like decent increases but is not enough to keep up with inflation and enrollment growth.
- Operations funding is important to keep Universities running smoothly. A lack of funding may mean universities try to make up for this lack of funding through increased tuition, increased class sizes, hiring freezes (which means shittier services for students since there are less staff and faculty around to help), building maintenance stress and increased fees for ancillary services such as parking, bookstore and residence for example.
- The Foundational Learning supports are provided on a first-come, first-served basis to applicants. This means the funds may run out faster following inflation and as more students enrol in programs and apply for financial support.
What we need:
- More appropriate funding to operations and foundational learning supports that keep up with both inflation and enrolment growth to avoid further jeopardizing education quality.
- Job placements and subsidies for more than 1,200 students. There’s over 200,000 post-secondary learners in Alberta and our numbers are only growing. Everyone deserves a chance to get the skills they need to be meaningfully employed after graduation.
- Student financial aid, grants and bursaries that make Advanced Education accessible and affordable to low-income students regardless of their fields of study.
- Ditch the tired, old MacKinnon/Blue Ribbon Panel report. It’s not relevant in the post-COVID era. The report didn’t stand up when it was published and its recommendations are still being poorly implemented.
If you’re struggling right now, we understand, and it's not your fault. The job market is bleak, the pandemic still sucks, and tuition is too damn high. Paying rent and finishing off this school term is enough to make anyone feel tired. Although this is not the worst budget we’ve seen in the last few years, Budget 2022 continues to burden students.
A Government that expects students to go into deep debt for an education and a promise of future success needs to meet us halfway and make student’s investment worthwhile by investing in the quality of Alberta’s Advanced Education.
Students are the best experts when it comes to Alberta’s post-secondary education system. We will continue fighting to recuperate lost jobs and research opportunities, increase student financial aid and call for greater investments in post-secondary education.
Far from a historic investment, the Budget 2022 is an attempt to ignore the damage that has been dealt to Alberta’s post-secondary education from 2019 on. It does not seriously prepare the province for our projected future enrolment boom and does not mend a seriously imbalanced student aid system.
As we did in 2019, 2020, and 2021, we still wonder:
If students are the most important stakeholders in the post-secondary education system, then where's the
f*ckin’ student consultation?
- Email or call the Minister of Advanced Education
- Contact your local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA)
- Reach out to your Faculty or Student Groups, as well as Staff Associations to get involved for greater provincial investment in Advanced Education
- Send the Students' Union an email, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to share your thoughts or concerns.