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Calgary students protest tuition increases, budget cuts in light of Alberta’s $5.5B surplus

Click to play video: 'U of C students protest tuition hikes and lack of funding'
U of C students protest tuition hikes and lack of funding
WATCH: Students at the University of Calgary took part in a protest over the noon hour Friday saying not only are they paying more, but they are also getting less because of government cutbacks. Doug Vaessen has details. – Dec 1, 2023

The day after a financial update from the Alberta government showed a surplus more than double than originally anticipated, students at the University of Calgary protested years of cuts to the university’s funding. The students said they’re having to foot the bill for those cuts.

“Since 2019, tuition has increased about 40 per cent for arts students all across Alberta and in some other departments, such as engineering, which is closer to 60 per cent. And those budget cuts have been in the ballpark of around $750 million since 2019, province-wide,” said Ahmed Wattoo, a fifth-year political science student.

Wattoo said he’s paying $4,000 more in tuition this year than when he started in 2019. Not living at home, he’s having to work when he can and take out loans for the rest of his education and living expenses.

“It’s just more stress as well as having to work a part-time job to make ends meet regardless because loans aren’t enough,” Wattoo told Global News.

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“These are the largest and fastest tuition increases that Alberta students have ever seen,” Mateusz Salmassi, student union VP external, said. “And at the same time, students feel like they’re paying far more for far less.

Click to play video: 'University of Calgary board of governors approve tuition increases'
University of Calgary board of governors approve tuition increases

“The Alberta government is talking about creating the workforce of the future, diversifying our economy and all these sorts of things. But at the same time, the Alberta government slashed over $100 million from the University of Calgary alone since 2019.

“What that means is the quality of education is declining.”

Salmassi said he’s heard from students who are having a harder and harder time accessing services to further their careers, like academic advising and work-integrated learning opportunities, results of the university cutting staff to meet budget restrictions.

Wattoo said he’d like to see the university’s budget reinstated and to have a tuition freeze put back in place at a time of heightened inflation.

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The minister of advanced education said she’s been listening to students about their concerns.

Click to play video: 'Cap coming to post-secondary tuition rates in Alberta'
Cap coming to post-secondary tuition rates in Alberta

“I am hearing the same messages around affordability, around housing. And certainly this is an issue like in every realm of society across our province and across the country,” Rajan Sawhney said.

She pointed to the tuition increase cap set at two per cent, to begin in the 2024-25 school year.

“These ideas came from students themselves. So we do listen to students and we will continue to listen to their concerns,” Sawhney said.

Salmassi said a small share of an expected $5.5 billion for the 2023-24 provincial surplus could go a long way to help students.

“All it would take is a reinvestment of just two per cent of that surplus back into the University of Calgary to solve most of the problems that students are protesting about today,” he said.

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Sawhney admitted Alberta is poised to have a “very healthy surplus” this year.

“But we are also guided by our fiscal framework that has some guardrails in place,” the minister said.

“But I will say that I have a very good relationship with student organizations across the province, and we’re continuing to work on other initiatives that are going to help with affordability.”

Wattoo said the last few years of tuition increases have saddled him with more and more debt as he starts his career after this semester.

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