Funding cuts for post-secondary education has Alberta institutions scrambling

An additional $20-million drop in funding for the University of Alberta will likely mean staff layoffs and fewer students on campus next year, says Provost Carl Amrhein.

The institution has been trying to balance a $59-million projected deficit since last fall, proposing $550 per student fees and unpaid holidays for staff. But administrators were handed an unexpected additional $20-million shortfall when the province cut funding targeted at new and growing programs in last week’s budget.

Those cuts weren’t specified in the budget speech. The Provost got the news in a phone call that evening, and has been trying to crunch the numbers since.

Here in Calgary, Provincial budget cuts mean the University of Calgary has found itself short $17.5-million.

The University says it’s still trying to figure out how to deliver on its promise of more spaces for students if it can, but a tuition hike is a possibility.

Mount Royal University says it expected a status quo budget this year, and that’s what it got. However, after factoring in inflation, that’s a $5-million shortfall, and expansion has been put on hold.

“Those students already in programs will not be affected. We will certainly support those – through all of this budget process, Mount Royal will continue to focus on quality student experiences; small class sizes, that is what we do well and will continue to do and that will really frame all the budget decisions we make”, says Richard Roberts, Vice President of MRU.

Institutions across the province had been hiring to meet the province’s pledge of 16,000 new student spaces by 2011-12.

Advanced Education and Technology Minister Doug Horner said he is still committed to seeing those 16,000 seats materialize.

"It’s about access. It’s not about the institution," he said. "We’re going to find a way to make them work.

"Can we do 10 per cent more … with the same dollars? Now is the time we need to start talking about that," he said, adding some institutions, such as the University of California’s Berkeley campus, are getting 25-per-cent cuts.

Students in Edmonton launched a campaign to try to stop a $550 mandatory fee for all students last week, putting up posters and handing out price tags to spread awareness among students, encouraging them to write letters to Horner. In Early February, hundreds of University of Calgary students also took part in a Day of Action to fight a proposed tuition fee hike there.

Carl Amrhein said he is still negotiating with the province to see which commitments for student spaces it will be allowed to break now that the funding has disappeared.

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