Despite growing costs and increased demands, post-secondary institutions face an uncertain future as Saskatchewan rolls out its budget.
The 2019-20 provincial budget, released Wednesday, commits $469 million to operating grants towards the University of Regina (U of R) and the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), a zero per cent increase for the second consecutive year.
“The provincial government funding to those institutions is some of the highest in Canada when we compare to other provinces,” said Tina Beaudry-Mellor, advanced education minister.
“At the same time, those same institutions, really well-funded by the government, are also increasing tuition. That’s a bit of a concern we have.”
Saskatchewan universities are already working behind after facing cuts to their funding in the 2017-18 budget.
Overall spending was cut by $44 million.
Both U of R and U of S face looming strikes, meaning the status quo from a year ago could have major impacts on staff’s decision to take job action.
Since expiring in 2017, U of R administration and the U of R Faculty Association (URFA) have not been able to reach a new collective agreement for U of R academic staff. Their demands include salary increases.
The two sides met last week, but weren’t able to come to an agreement. They’re scheduled to meet early next week, which could result in a strike as early as March 28, if an agreement isn’t reached.
Students have expressed their concerns over a possible strike which could cut their semester short and push back graduation.
U of S support staff have been without a contract since late 2015 and their issues include wages and pensions.
Members voted in favour of a strike mandate in September, but job action isn’t possible because the sides have matters before the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board.
The earliest a strike could happen would likely be April, according to the union.
In the 2018-19 budget, students at the U or R were hit with a 2.8 per cent tuition increase, while tuition at the U of S went up by 4.8 per cent.
Current staff demands, on top of the zero per cent increase, could lead to another tuition hike.
“Today, we’re really disappointed to hear that tuition will most likely be going up again,” said Shawn Wiskar, University of Regina Students’ Union president.
“We are calling on the government to freeze tuition or at the very least come up with a sustainable plan so students aren’t left in limbo for what their tuition costs are going to look like over the tenure of their university degree.”
Of the $728 million overall investment, $152 million will be distributed to the Saskatchewan Polytechnic, the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies and the Gabriel Dumont Institute.
Eighty-eight million dollars will go towards the College of Medicine at the U of S.
Saskatchewan’s regional colleges are receiving $29 million and more than $22 million will fund capital repairs and maintenance throughout the post-secondary sector.
Changes made to Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship program
The Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship program will now have tighter restrictions for those applying.
Eligibility will be based on students who need the most help paying tuition.
“By amending the Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship to a needs-based approach, and increasing funding for student financial assistance, we can get money into the hands of students who truly need it,” Beaudry-Mellor said.
In the past, every successful high school graduate since 2012, including Adult Basic Education and General Educational Development, enrolled in a post-secondary institution could apply the for program.
The scholarship provides $500 per year towards reducing tuition, a lifetime maximum of up to $2,000.
Students can apply through a single application for three types of Saskatchewan financial assistance: grant, scholarship and loan.
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Funding increase for student loans program
Twenty-six million dollars will be dedicated to student loan programs, an increase of $4.7 million.
It will provide repayable and non-repayable financial assistance to more than 18,000 students.
Four thousand dollars per year will be available for up-front grants and $7 million is being put towards scholarships.
Students will continue to receive benefits after finishing their education through the Graduate Retention Program, which provides provincial income tax credits of up to $20,000 for tuition fees for graduates living in and working in the Saskatchewan.
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