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Alberta Budget 2019: Student employment program axed in favour of Skills for Jobs strategy

Post-secondary budget fallout
Oct. 26: Alberta universities and colleges are bracing themselves for the fallout of this week's provincial budget. Some post-secondary institutions say the funding slash is "significant.” Julia Wong reports.

A popular summer program that was eliminated by the former Progressive Conservative government and then reinstated by the NDP has been cut once again.

The first provincial budget tabled by the United Conservatives does not include funding for STEP — the Summer Temporary Employment Program.

STEP, which cost taxpayers $7.1 million per year, was axed by the PCs in March 2013.

However, the Rachel Notley NDP announced plans in its 2015 budget to reinstate the fund. It earmarked $10 million per year for two years to bring STEP back.

READ MORE: Student employment program axed by PCs coming back to Alberta in 2016

The UCP budget, released last week, doesn’t include money for STEP, which subsidizes student wages in the summer months to encourage companies to hire post-secondary students.

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“That STEP program… that’s just a short-term subsidy for summer jobs,” Premier Jason Kenney said Monday at an event at Silent-Aire, an Edmonton HVAC manufacturer. “Quite frankly, our youth job creation wage is going to create a lot more jobs than that did and on a permanent basis as well.

“We had to make some choices in our budget, that’s one choice we made.”

The Opposition is slamming the decision.

“I don’t know why students are being asked to do more to balance the budget than big corporations,” said Fajar Khan, a post-secondary student studying at the University of Alberta, in a news release sent out by the NDP.

Alberta Chambers of Commerce responds to budget and state of province
Alberta Chambers of Commerce responds to budget and state of province

READ MORE: Winners and losers in Alberta budget 2019

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“I don’t know how I’m going to pay for this and it’s not fair. Eliminating the STEP program makes it even worse because how are we supposed to pay for these extra costs if it’s harder to get a summer job?”

“But even at a time of fiscal restraint, we have decided to invest tens of millions of dollars in additional support for trades training and apprenticeship programs like this because we think it’s so important,” Kenney said.

In the budget, the Kenney government is committing $10 million to Women Building Futures, $2 million to Skills Canada training and $11.4 million to CAREERS the Next Generation.

Finance Minister Travis Toews said this money is meant to “strengthen the connection between students and jobs.”

UCP boosts support for program that steers students towards skilled trades
UCP boosts support for program that steers students towards skilled trades

READ MORE: Highlights from Alberta budget 2019

On Thursday, the budget for advanced education was slashed five per cent from 2018 and will be down 12 per cent by 2023.

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Most institutions will see some type of funding decrease, but the biggest hit will be the University of Alberta and University of Calgary at nearly seven per cent as well as MacEwan University and Bow Valley College at almost eight per cent. NAIT will see a roughly 2.5 per cent funding decrease while SAIT will see a 5.5 per cent drop.

Alberta budget 2019: Finance minister addresses lifting cap on post-secondary tuition
Alberta budget 2019: Finance minister addresses lifting cap on post-secondary tuition

A freeze on tuition will be lifted but capped at seven per cent to a maximum 21 per cent over three years. Tuition and education tax credits were also cut and the interest rate on student loans will be increased to prime plus one per cent.

“Our general strategy is to do a better job of supporting post-secondary programs that have some better job opportunities, better labour market outcomes,” Kenney said.

“Alberta spends more on universities than any other provinces no matter how you count it. We spend about $10,000 more per student than Ontario does per each university student and yet we have lower university admissions and lower completion rates. The MacKinnon panel underscored that it’s in universities that we have, by far, the least efficient system in Canada.”

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READ MORE: Minister says action coming on MacKinnon report on Alberta’s post-secondary system

Kenney reiterated his party’s campaign promise to focus on a “skills for jobs agenda.”

“We’re looking at a huge wave of baby boomers retiring out of the trades and we just haven’t kept pace with young people going into trades training, so there’s going to be a big labour gap when it comes to so many of these trades that we need to build Alberta’s future economy.”

READ MORE: Alberta budget 2019 includes cuts to cities, civil servants, universities

“I believe profoundly that we got something wrong in our education system two or three decades ago when we started telling young people that they pretty much had to go into academic post-secondary classroom learning. We sent a lot of messages that, frankly, discouraged young people from trades and apprenticeship learning.

“And what did we end up with? Well, we ended with high young unemployment and skill shortages in a lot of good jobs that are holding back our economy.”

Political scientist Duane Bratt weighs in on Alberta budget 2019: ‘This was not a shock’
Political scientist Duane Bratt weighs in on Alberta budget 2019: ‘This was not a shock’

— With files from Global’s Julia Wong

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