Spending decisions in last month’s provincial budget are the driving force behind next week’s planned protest by university students at the Alberta legislature in Edmonton.
“We will not stand silent while the government makes sweeping changes that will affect our futures,” reads a post on the University of Alberta Students’ Union Facebook page promoting the rally.
The UCP government’s first-ever budget saw spending on advanced education be cut by five per cent from 2018 and it will be down 12 per cent by 2023.
While many post-secondary institutions in the province will see funding decreases, the largest ones have been the hardest hit. MacEwan University and Bow Valley College will see funding decreased by almost eight per cent while the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary decreases will be nearly seven per cent.
At the same time, Premier Jason Kenney’s government has decided to lift a freeze on post-secondary tuition, although it will be capped at seven per cent to a maximum of 21 per cent over three years.
Ahead of Monday’s planned protest, the University of Alberta Students’ Union, the University of Alberta Graduate Students’ Association, the Association of Academic Staff University of Alberta and the University of Alberta Non-Academic Staff Association issued a joint statement on Friday.
“Students, faculty and staff at the University of Alberta are deeply concerned about the impact that the Government of Alberta’s 2019-2020 budget will have on the equality, accessibility and affordability of education at the University of Alberta,” the statement reads.
The statement also said that tens of millions of dollars in cuts to the university’s operating grant and to planned infrastructure maintenance funding come at the same time that “current and prospective students will be facing thousands of dollars of additional costs for their education between dramatic increased to tuition.”
“Alberta’s post-secondary institutions, including the University of Alberta, already faced real challenges before this budget was tabled,” the statement reads. “As costs and debts have risen, increased incidences of student mental health concerns, food insecurity and homelessness have been reported.
“University of Alberta students, faculty and staff will not sit silently while this budget takes effect, particularly on those most vulnerable members of our community.”
“Freedom of expression and peaceful protest are central tenets of the academic experience,” read a statement from the Ministry of Advanced Education when asked by Global News for comment on Monday’s planned protest.
“That is why we have asked our institutions to implement the University of Chicago Statement on Free Expression, so that our students and faculty have the highest protections.
“Minister (Demetrios) Nicolaides has invited the student leadership from the U of A, Grant MacEwan (University) and Mount Royal (University) to meet with him prior to the demonstration and will be introducing them in the Legislative Assembly. The minister has always had an open door policy with our stakeholders and will continue to do so.”
David Turpin, the president of the University of Alberta, has previously responded to the budget by calling the loss in post-secondary funding “significant.”
Monday’s rally will see students march from the University of Alberta’s administration building to the legislature where protesters are expected to “hand-deliver hundreds of stories from students to the government.”
Rally organizers say the plan is for University of Alberta students to converge on the legislature at the same time as students from MacEwan University.
–With files from Global News’ Julia Wong