Hundreds of post-secondary students marched to the steps of the McDougall Centre, Alberta’s premier’s office in Calgary, on Friday.
The Hands Off Our Education rally, organized by Students for Direct Action and Calgary Social Change, protested cuts to advanced education in the provincial budget.
“This government is trying to balance the budget on the backs of students, while giving a multi-billion-dollar tax handout to the wealthy and corporations in this province,” said rally organizer and University of Calgary student Frank Finley. “That is unacceptable.”
The UCP’ 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.
The budget also removed a freeze on post-secondary tuition, but capped the potential tuition raise at seven per cent each year.
The potential hikes have Kessa Den Hoed, a fifth-year education major at the University of Calgary, concerned.
She is in her graduation year and is working as a student teacher at a local high school.
“I have three younger siblings, all in post-secondary right now, and it’s a really scary prospect for them looking at the next few years of their education.” Den Hoed said.
“I know we can’t freeze tuition forever to the point that it comes out of touch with inflation, but I think seven per cent at a time [and] three years in a row is far too much, far too fast.”
Protesters angered by the cuts said they want the student temporary employment program and tuition tax credits to be reinstated.
Finley also pointed to the discontinued infrastructure maintenance program, which provided post-secondary institutions funding to help repair infrastructure on campus.
Organizers warned that the impacts of rolling back post-secondary funding would be far-reaching.
“When you rip the money out of the post-secondary institutions, that are not only providing stimulus but providing a way to create new technologies in the world, you’re going to create a depressed business atmosphere in Alberta,” Finley said.
In response to the budget shortfall, the University of Calgary was forced to cut 250 positions. Meanwhile, 10 jobs have been eliminated at Calgary’s Mount Royal University as two departments are being merged into one as “part of an overall process to reduce costs.”
Edmonton’s MacEwan University is still working out the specifics of how provincial funding will impact its budget and any potential jobs, officials said. The University of Alberta did not respond to Global News’ request for comment.
“We don’t know what’s coming and these cuts are really going to devastate post-secondary education in the province,” said Mount Royal University general education professor Roberta Lexier.
“We’re really struggling to figure out what that means and what we’re going to look like in the future.”
Lexier delivered a speech to the crowd during Friday’s protest, and advised Albertans that they should be concerned over the cuts.
“An educated population really matters, [so] we need to make sure our young people are taken care of.”
NDP Leader Rachel Notley, along with multiple opposition critics also attended the rally. She accused Premier Jason Kenney of going against promises the UCP made in the spring election campaign.
“Albertans who are concerned need to be reaching out to all members of the UCP to let Jason Kenney know that he doesn’t have a mandate for this — he lied to Albertans,” Notley said.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Advanced Education said that freedom of expression and peaceful protests are central principles in the academic experience, touting the government’s request to post-secondary institutions to implement the University of Chicago Statement on Free Expression to protect students free speech.
“The minister has had an open-door policy with students since he took office and will continue to do so,” said Ministry of Advanced Education press secretary Laurie Chandler. “Earlier this week, the minister announced more access to mental health services on campus. This is a direct result of student advocacy.”
Rally organizers said they plan to hold more protests in the future, in the hopes their concerns will be heard.