EDMONTON – Just days after announcing cuts to its Arts Faculty, the University of Alberta announced on Tuesday that it will be scaling back course options for science students this fall.
The U of A Faculty of Science will have to bring down enrollment numbers by 300 students because of budget restrictions.
“It’s devastating, to be quite blunt,” says Jonathan Schaeffer, Dean of Science at the U of A.
“I started this job a year ago and my goal was to grow the Faculty of Science.”
“For now, I’m making decisions to move us in the other direction. We’re shrinking. We’re retrenching. It’s not a question of growth. It’s a matter of minimizing damage.”
The decision to cut enrollment numbers comes after cuts to provincial operating grants. Now, the Faculty doesn’t have the dollars to fund the 300 students.
“We were under budget pressure before,” explains Schaeffer, “we’re under even greater pressure now. So this is a matter of life and death. It’s really non-negotiable unless there are additional sources of funding. We have to reduce the number of students we can service.”
“That means over two years, that’s 600 less spots available for students who want to study science, who want to build transferrable skills that are both beneficial to Alberta’s economy, but are also beneficial to the national and international economy,” says Dustin Chelen, VP Academic for the University of Alberta’s Students’ Union.
“Science is a key aspect of industry and society. We’d be, I think, lost without it.”
To restrict enrollment, the Faculty will likely have to raise the entrance requirement above where it currently sits at 80 per cent.
“It’s really alarming for high school students, parents of high school students right now,” Chelen says. “It’s going to mean entrance averages are going up. It’s harder to get into the University of Alberta. And I suspect students are going to have to look at other options.”
The dean is also planning to reduce the number of courses offered. At least 20 will either be cancelled or only offered every few years.
“There’s an unprecedented demand for a Faculty of Science education here in the province of Alberta,” says Schaeffer, “and to restrict enrollment is just against everything I believe in.”
“I’m dreadfully afraid we will make a decision that looks right in the short term and will save money, but in the long term, will be a huge mistake,” he adds.
Schaeffer admits the cuts will result in some cost savings, but says they’re a very small part of the solution to balance the budget.
“The irony of all this is that, by undercutting the University of Alberta, we’re actually going to stunt development in Alberta,” says Alberta NDP MLA Rachel Notley.
“This is going to result in a fundamental restructuring of those universities. A measurable, qualitative and quantitative reduction in the education Albertans can expect to receive, and that’s going to hurt Albertans – not only our economic competition and competitiveness here in Alberta – but also the degree to which Alberta students can proudly go outside of Alberta and say ‘hey I was educated here.’”
“They’re undercutting our future,” Notley adds.
“The premier and the minister need to be honest with Albertans that they’ve made a choice, and that choice is to take money out of the system at the expense of our education system.”
This is the second faculty in four days to announce cuts that will take affect this fall. The dean of the Faculty of Arts is planning to suspend 20 programs beginning this September.
“I am receiving emails daily now… unfortunately, some faculty have decided they are going to go elsewhere because they don’t feel the support is here,” adds Kevin Kane, with the U of A Association of Academic Staff.
Kane says the cuts are impacting students and staff alike, and have created concerns with recruitment and retention.
“Frankly, the events of the last six months have certainly been demoralizing.”
With files from Jenna Bridges, Fletcher Kent, Global News