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Prentice: University students will be squeezed, staff could face cuts

CALGARY – A day after Alberta Premier Jim Prentice said students would feel the squeeze from low oil prices, he met with the University of Calgary’s board of governors and student leaders. In an hour-long meeting Friday morning, Prentice confirmed the province is considering cutting post-secondary funding and lifting the cap on tuition fees in the upcoming budget.

Currently, tuition hikes are capped each year – limited to the increase in the consumer price index. For 2015, it’s set at 2.2 per cent.

Prentice said “more discussions” will take place with secondary schools leading up to next month’s budget, and said faculty and staff will have to share the fiscal pain with students, which could include pay cuts.

“The University of Calgary is an autonomous, self-governing institution and we are a public funder,” said Prentice. “I had a very frank discussion with the board about the challenges that we face fiscally, but at the end of the day we expect them to run the University of Calgary in a fiscally responsible way and to make appropriate decisions.”

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Elizabeth Cannon, president of the University of the Calgary, said any cuts would be significant as the institution was still reeling from a 7.3 per cent cut two years ago.

“An additional cut is obviously going to be tough for us, we’re looking at various scenarios as we speak and one thing that could be on the table is access. We want to ensure quality of our programs, and if we have less money, unfortunately that could into fewer students on campus.”

NDP Leader Rachel Notley suggested Prentice’s position was a reversal of a position he took when he ran for the federal Progressive Conservative leadership in 2003.

“In 2003, one of his major platform planks was tuition-free university and college for students,” said Notley in a Friday statement. “Today as Premier, he wants to balance the budget on the backs of students. I’d like to know what changed.”

Liberal Leader David Swann accused the PCs of “underfunding and mismanagement” in response to the cuts under consideration.

“This premier is going on a corporate lecture tour telling Albertans our frontline workers should be expected to sacrifice more and more to make up for the PC budget crisis,” said Swann in a release. “In reality, it is the PCs who are to blame because of their decades of fiscal irresponsibility.”

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READ MORE: Prentice says Alberta budget to be so radical, will demand mandate to implement

With files from Gary Bobrovitz

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