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Post-secondary students descend upon Alberta legislature to protest UCP cuts

Students rally at Alberta legislature to protest post-secondary cuts
WATCH: Hundreds of students gathered on the steps of the Alberta legislature on Monday to protest cuts to post-secondary education. Julia Wong reports.

Post-secondary students from the University of Alberta and MacEwan University marched from their respective campuses to the Alberta legislature Monday, raising concerns over provincial budget cuts.

“This budget is personal,” said Akanksha Bhatnagar, the president of the University of Alberta Students’ Union. “It really has personal impacts on students, staff and faculty.”

The UCP’s first budget saw advanced education spending cut, and it also removed a freeze on post-secondary tuition, but did cap the potential tuition raise at seven per cent each year.

Monday’s rally was planned jointly between MacEwan and the U of A to spread a larger message to government.

“We’re all in tough financial situations,” said Bhatnagar.

READ MORE: Edmonton university students planning rally against UCP cuts to post-secondary education

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While he did not attend the rally, before it began, Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides met with student leaders from the U of A, including Bhatnagar, as well as from MacEwan University and Mount Royal University.

“I completely understand and recognize that these are going to be some challenging times,” Nicolaides told reporters on Monday. “These changes are necessary for us to ensure that we have a path forward.”

Demonstrators at Alberta legislature protest cuts to post-secondary education
Demonstrators at Alberta legislature protest cuts to post-secondary education

“He did say he was interested in re-purposing what student financial aid looks like,” said Bhatnagar. “But there wasn’t any sort of targeted changes.

“We are hoping that because he has been listening to us, that he takes our implementation ideas and actually puts them into next year’s budget.”

The student leaders are also set to attend question period this coming Thursday as well as attend a second face-to-face meeting with Nicolaides.

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

Students at the rally said they were attending because they are already feeling the stress on where their tuition will come from.

“My parents are needing to use their retirement savings right now, to pay for my sister’s and my education here,” said Eunah Cha, an international nursing student at the University of Alberta.

“We’re doing everything we can and at this point tuition is just increasing.”

Robert Bilak, also at the U of A, studying politics and economics, hopes the demonstration shows the UCP that students will struggle to carry the financial load.

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“It’s a matter of cutting costs in my personal budget. Trying to save more, not spend,” said Bilak. “Education is important in our province.”

MLA David Eggen, the NDP’s advanced education critic, attended the rally and said he was glad students “are not taking this attack on education lying down.”

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

“There are tens of thousands of students that will literally be unable to afford post-secondary education,” said Eggen.

“Prices are going up (and) the quality of education is going down.”

“I’m meeting with students on a regular basis,” said Nicolaides. “It’s the number one priority for me, of course, is to hear from our students and get a better understanding of their perspectives.”

Post-secondary institutions have been asked by the UCP to submit a budget impact plan to the provincial government by Dec. 2.