Provincial budget cuts to post-secondary education have the potential to impoverish education, according to Lori Williams, an MRU political scientist.
Under the UCP’s budget 2019, tuition can be increased by as much as 7 per cent, per year, over the next three years, meaning students could be paying up to 21 per cent more in tuition come 2023. Combine this with the fact that Alberta student loans will not be increasing to cover this hiked tuition and students begin to struggle, said Williams.
“That means that students are going to have to find other sources of revenue because their student loans don’t cover all of their expenses while they go to school,” said Williams.
“Typically, what that means is that students work more during the school year and from my perspective, that’s particularly concerning because that means you have less time to spend on your education.”
In addition to this, the provincial government grants to post secondary institutions are also being cut. Mount Royal University will be receiving 1.3 per cent less this year, U of C is getting a 6.9 per cent decrease, SAIT will be getting 5.5 per cent less and Bow Valley will see 7.9 per cent less. The government has also signalled that these institutions will be facing similar cuts over the next three years.
Roughly half of MRU’s revenue in 2017/18 year came from Alberta government grants.
The UCP has said that these cuts are necessary to balance the budget in four years and have strong and responsible fiscal management:
“It’s [budget 2019] focused on creating jobs and delivering public services and infrastructure to support private sector investment and a vibrant society.”
More cuts means more unemployment
According to Williams, the careers people choose to pursue typically depends more on how the economy is doing rather than the cost of post secondary education.
When the oil patch industry in Alberta is doing very well it’s normal for people with less than a high school education to be working in areas that require more experiential education and less formal education, said Williams. When the economy hits a downturn is when those people typically return to school for upgrading.
“During economic downturns, we often see an increase in what happens at school, but it’s not just how much money is out there, not even how many jobs are out there,” said Williams. “It’s the nature of the jobs that are available and the kind of qualifications that are needed to get those jobs.”
Williams said she expected more people to be looking at trade-based education and careers, since there are still solid, well-paying jobs in those areas.
Recent post secondary graduates, though, might have a harder time finding employment. Williams explained that cuts to the public sector, usually lead to job losses.
“And since that’s happening in a lot of different sectors, there will be a lot more people unemployed than were before the cuts were imposed. So we’re going to actually have direct, directly generated, unemployment as a result of that,” said Williams.
“It’s hard to say what impact that’s going to have right now we don’t have a robust economy, but there are some forecasters who are saying that is going to turn around.”
If the private sector starts to see growth, that may create job opportunities and some students may get jobs in slightly different sectors. The increase in infrastructure spending from the federal government has the potential to create more jobs. According to Williams, it all depends on the experience and education one might have.
“The reality is that every student who’s graduating is competing with a larger pool of unemployed folks than they would have been competing with before these various
cuts were imposed.”
The full impact of these cuts is not yet known and just how they will affect students and staff of institutions won’t be fully understood for some time, said Williams.
“The only thing we know for sure will happen is that it’s going to get more expensive for students. We know some of the supports available to them will diminish and we know that even their course selection will be more limited.”
Bridging the funding gap
At a Mount Royal town hall meeting on Thursday, institution personnel further broke down how the university would bridge the funding gap created by the UCP’s budget.
According to Tim Rahilly, MRU’s president, the institution’s grant cut works out to be $2.3-million, this year. Institutions across Alberta received cuts to their infrastructure maintenance program. For MRU this was $3.6 million. In total, MRU is looking to fill a gap of $5.7-million in this year’s operating budget.
“And remember, that’s money that basically has to come out of whatever we were planning on doing between October, November, and the end of our year,” said Lori Williams, before the meeting.
According to Rahilly, “Government has been very clear that they want us to rely less on grants.”
The UCP has signalled to MRU to expect a 5 per cent cut to the institution’s provincial grant starting next year and for the following three years. That works out to be, roughly, a $5-million cut each year, Rahilly said.
MRU recently announced a cut of 10 filled positions and the merging of Student Affairs and Campus Life into the Academic Affairs department. Rahilly said the institution is looking to cut 15 more vacant positions but no more personnel would be let go in 2019. However, more job losses can be expected in 2020, though how many, he added , wasn’t yet clear.
“When we think about the academic schedule, and we think about the question of budget, we also have to think about class size. And I can guarantee you there’s discussions about classes [growing] that have been happening,” said Lesley Brown, provost and vice president academic.
Brown said going forward MRU would be looking at whether existing classrooms could physically facilitate more students and which courses would not benefit from larger classes.
Williams said that MRU has already seen courses be impacted.
“We already know that the courses that normally would have been allowed to fill for a little bit longer before decisions were being made about whether they’d be cut next semester, that those courses are on the chopping block,” said Williams.
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