Two of Alberta’s largest research-based universities say they are pleased to see the 2022 budget will support student enrolment, but they are also concerned about another year of reductions to provincial grants.
Thursday’s budget outlined $171 million over three years to create 7,000 new post-secondary spots in high-demand areas, including computer and data science, finance, agricultural science, health and aviation.
University of Alberta president Bill Flanagan said the university has been in talks with the provincial government for about a year now, hoping to increase campus enrolment, especially considering Alberta’s young population.
Flanagan said applications at the U of A are up 25 per cent in the last five years.
“There’s huge demand for our programs at the University of Alberta,” Flanagan said. “We need to grow. We need to grow for the province and be that engine of economic growth. So we’re very pleased that the government has initiated a program that will support enrolment growth in the province.
“With the number of Alberta high school graduates increasing by up to 20 per cent in the next six years, we need these graduates to stay in Alberta where they can contribute to the province’s ongoing economic growth and diversification,” said Flanagan.
The University of Calgary is also pleased to see funding being directed to attract new talent development.
“These funds will help UCalgary produce talent in high-demand employment sectors and drive the economy,” U of C president and vice-chancellor Ed McCauley said in a statement.
Budget 2022 will also see $59 million spent to expand the U of C’s veterinary school. McCauley said this money will allow the university to meet the growing labour market demand for its program.
“Meeting the needs of our community through the expansion of the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine will support the growth of a major economic sector of our province,” McCauley said.
However, both universities voiced frustrations with yet another year of planned reductions to post-secondary institutions. Flanagan said budget 2022 includes an anticipated 10.7 per cent — or $52 million — reduction to the U of A’s provincial grant. Over three years, Flanagan said the U of A’s provincial grant has been reduced by a total of $222 million.
Over the last two years, Flanagan said the university has undertaken its largest restructuring effort in its history.
“It’s been a hard road and we’re not there yet,” said Flanagan. “The hard decisions we are making now will ultimately set the university up to better serve Albertans and better prepare the next generation of leaders.”
McCauley added that in the long-term, the University of Calgary needs ongoing funding for teaching and learning as well.
“Great societies are anchored by great research universities. They are engines for everything from employment to art to community to discovery. An investment in higher education is an investment in our future.”
Finance Minister Travis Toews said the 2022 budget forecasts a $500-million surplus, with small surpluses projected in years after that.
It’s been seven years since the province’s last balanced budget and the surplus represents a profound turnaround from recent budgets drowning in staggering multibillion-dollar deficits.