NDP wants Alberta government to make changes to post-secondary budget

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NDP wants Alberta government to make changes to post-secondary budget
The Alberta NDP is calling for four immediate changes to Budget 2021 in terms of how it affects post-secondary institutions, in order to better position schools in the province's economic recovery plan. Taz Dhaliwal has more on the proposed changes and reaction from Lethbridge's post-secondary institutions – Mar 3, 2021

The NDP is describing the Alberta government’s 2021 post-secondary budget as “devastating.”

“We know the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College are a big part of the economy in the region, and this is the third cut in a row, quite frankly, to these institutions,” said David Eggen, NDP Critic for Advanced Education.

“It will affect the quality of learning (and) the ability to attract and retain young people to the city of Lethbridge,” Eggen added.

The NDP is calling for the UCP government to make the following changes:

  • Reverse the $690 million in post-secondary cuts they’ve made since taking office
  • Freeze student tuition rates during the pandemic
  • Stop increases to student loan interest rates
  • End the move of performance-based funding
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The Opposition party says it, along with students, is asking for sweeping changes to the 2021 post-secondary budget to ensure both the school system and learners are “equipped to drive a diversified economic recovery.”

“Post-secondary is the economic engine of our province,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley in a statement.

“(Premier) Jason Kenney cannot claim he supports diversifying our economy and creating jobs in new sectors and then cut funding to the very schools that will give our future leaders the skills and training they need to perform those jobs, to advance those sectors.”

The NDP says Budget 2021 cuts post-secondary operating funds by $135 million, adding that since taking office — with population and inflation factored in — the UCP has cut $690 million or nearly 23 per cent from the post-secondary budget.

The statement said the Alberta government has slashed nearly 1,500 full-time equivalent post-secondary jobs to date.

Lethbridge College expected a five per cent cut in funding but instead received a 6.4 per cent reduction.

“That means we have to find other sources of revenue, one of which is of course tuition,” said Paula Burns, president of Lethbridge College.

“We are cautious to not increase tuition too much as we recognize that students also need to have affordable education.”

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The college says it’s in the midst of preparing its own budget and will try to preserve as many jobs as possible.

The university also expects to make further layoffs and decrease programming for students due to a 5.8 percent decrease in its funding.

Last week, the university sent out a statement after Budget 2021 was released.

“Alberta’s post-secondary institutions are positioned to work with the province to support economic recovery, future growth in employment and economic diversification,” says Dr. Mike Mahon, chair of the Council for Post-Secondary Presidents of Alberta.

“Predictable and sustainable funding is critical for institutions’ ability to provide an environment that fosters student success and supports the collective communities we serve.”

The statement said the newest cuts will transfer more financial responsibility onto the backs of students and will affect the livelihoods of all Albertans, adding the fiscal outlook for Alberta institutions has been worsened by COVID-19.

“Public health measures have significantly reduced revenue derived from on-campus program delivery, reduced enrolment of international students and increased costs associated with alternative delivery,” the statement says.

The university says the Alberta government has not provided any COVID-19-related funds to institutions to address these impacts, whereas some other provinces have.

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Ryan Lindblad, a member of the U of L’s Students’ Union, said that further reducing funding for post-secondary institutions and not freezing interest rates on student loans isn’t reasonable.

“I think there’s some form of disconnect or failure of the government to understand just how eviscerating their cuts have already been and how much financial trouble students have already been put in from previous cuts,” Lindblad said.

He said he doesn’t think the slashed funding is a personal attack on students, but he is dumbfounded by the province’s decision, despite the many hardships students have already had to face, which are compounded by the pandemic and fewer job opportunities.

“I honestly wonder if it’s incompetence and failure to understand just how poor of a position students have already been put in,” Lindblad said.

Global News received a statement from Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides.

“This year’s funding, along with the introduction of performance-based funding and the Alberta 2030: Building Skills for Jobs initiative, represent a commitment to delivering the best value possible for post-secondary students in Alberta while still bringing funding in line with comparable institutions,” Nicolaides said.

“Given Alberta’s fiscal realities, taxpayers can no longer afford to pay for such a disproportionate amount of post-secondary costs compared to other similar provinces.

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“However, we remain committed to ensuring that higher education remains accessible and prepares our students with the skills they will need in the short, medium and long term.”

The statement ends by saying it is also worth noting tuition costs in Alberta remain lower than the national average and the province continues to maintain limits on tuition increases to “preserve affordability for Alberta’s students.”

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