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Reactions to Budget 2022: a “turning point” disappointing to most

For most campus stakeholders, Budget 2022 needed to do more.

Budget 2022 was mostly met with disappointment from University of Alberta campus stakeholders.

The budget, released February 25, introduced various investments into post-secondary education, including its new Alberta at Work initiative, but also cut $52 million from the U of A — more than any other post-secondary in the province.

Students’ Union at U of A “extremely disappointed” by Budget 2022’s cuts

Rowan Ley, president of the University of Alberta Students’ Union (UASU), pointed out the $52 million cut to the U of A, “despite having a surplus” due to high oil prices.

He mentioned that the government’s cuts to the U of A were indicative of provincial priorities.

“Budgets are about priorities and the fact that the government is choosing to bank millions and millions of dollars while students are suffering is a very disappointing statement about their priorities,” Ley said.

Ley acknowledged the $171 million allocated to the Alberta at Work initiative towards enrolment expansion in sectors with high demand, such as areas of technology, agriculture, financial services, and aviation, but called this a “small success.”

“I think more people having the chance to study here is positive,” Ley said. “We believe in the importance and value of a university education but [that] obviously does not make up for the $52 million cut to our [provincial grant,] and it doesn’t do anything for students who’re already here. It will only find new students at lower levels of per student funding than we have right now.”

“Overall, this is still damaging for the U of A and unfortunately I think the decline in quality and student experience that we’ve had in the last few years will only accelerate.”

Ley mentioned that there are alternatives to large cuts such as slowly decreasing funding, but he “wouldn’t advocate that.”

“The government’s decisions at U of A are creating a crisis,” he said. “It is a short term and urgent crisis and in the next couple years they have the flexibility to just not create that crisis.”

“If they want to reduce our funding they could even do it more slowly …That would give us a lot more flexibility to absorb the cuts without hurting students and staff as much. And they’re choosing not to do that even though they have financial breathing room to do so right now so. …[The government] could deal with financial concerns they have in a more gradual and responsible way.”

Official opposition says that Budget 2022 “sends a bad message”

Official opposition member and shadow critic for advanced education David Eggen called Budget 2022’s implications on post-secondary education “quite disappointing.”

“We’ve seen three years of generational cuts to advanced education by the UCP government, and here we are now with not putting anything back really,” Eggen said.

“I think it’s disappointing. It means that students are going to be burdened with … more tuition increases because tuition increases have been baked in already from two years ago.”

Eggen also noted that the budget planned cuts for post-secondary institutions while running a surplus.

“That makes it worse to know in fact that the government is running a surplus but … the destructive cuts that they’ve made to colleges, universities, and polytechnics [can] still stand and continue on,” he said. “We know this has resulted in tuition that is too expensive for many people; people choose not to go to university because they can’t afford it.”

“Quite frankly, it sends a bad message to students, faculty, and the population in general that this government does not see post-secondary as a priority to invest [in].”

Eggen called on the provincial government to invest more in making tuition more affordable to “reaffirm people’s optimism and sense of security that our post-secondaries will be funded.”

Staff unions at U of A predict “hidden” impacts on students and faculty

Timothy Mills, president of the Association of Academic Staff of the University of Alberta (AASUA), reflected on the impacts Budget 2022 has had on students.

“Students have been feeling the effects of the past few years of cuts to government funding,” Mills said. “The cuts triggered a massive restructuring, undertaken at breakneck pace, which has left uncertainty and service gaps for students, and has thrown academic workloads into disarray as instructors and researchers struggle to deal with the new structures.”

Mills mentioned that the U of A has historically contributed a significant amount to Alberta’s economy, and Mills says that the government puts this part of its economy “at risk” by cutting funding to the U of A.

“That is what the government puts at risk when they continue to undermine our institution with these unreasonable cuts,” Mills said. “They are driving top academics away, which will erode the quality of research and the teaching that we can do here.”

“They are risking the education of students and they are undermining this multi-billion-dollar pillar of the Alberta economy.

Jillian Pratt, president of the Non-Academic Staff Association (NASA) at the U of A, mentioned that the cuts to the U of A would cause there to be “fewer people available to do the same, or more work.” She noted that access to several services have already been reduced, including less cleanliness and closing libraries.

“We’re really disappointed with Budget 2022,” Pratt said. “It’s not that it’s unexpected, but in a time when we’re actually starting to [see] a balanced to slightly surplus budget, it definitely would’ve been our hope that there would’ve been some sort of additional funding available for post-secondaries.”

“Seeing that we still have an expected $52 million cut is just devastating to our community as a whole.”

Pratt also mentioned that despite the $171 million investment, some parts of post-secondary education would not be receiving any of it.

“Enrolment expansion funding is very targeted and it doesn’t always fund some of the more hidden aspects of post-secondary,” she said.

“While we might be bringing in more students and we might have some of the instructors available to teach them from that funding, we’re not going to be able to keep up with all of the student supports that are needed in order to give them a robust and satisfying learning experience.”

Pratt also criticized a statement released by Bill Flanagan, president and vice-chancellor of the U of A, that addresses Budget 2022 as a “turning point.”

“I think it’s just really disappointing that President Flanagan continues to paint this rosy picture for the state of our once-great institution,” Pratt said. “To say that we’re coming to a ‘turning point’ in light of a still $52 million cut doesn’t really seem to grasp the gravity of the situation that the university finds itself in.”

CAUS calls Budget 2022 “destabilizing” for student futures

The Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) released a statement stating that they were “disappointed in further funding cuts.” CAUS represents over 270,000 undergraduate and graduate students in Alberta.

The statement outlined that though there were some good investments in post-secondary education, more could have been done. Rachel Timmermans, chair of CAUS, called the investments “encouraging.”

“If this system is to meet the needs of the province and the intent of this administration to lead Alberta to balance, the government must be brave and invest in its people now,” Timmermans said. “It is not enough to simply fund niche areas and hope the system transforms, it must be transformed. Alberta can show the world what accessible, affordable, high quality education can mean.”

The statement calls on “sustainable funding” for post-secondary institutions in the province to address the root issues such as skills gaps and labour shortages.

“Despite this progress, Alberta’s potential remains limited. Investments in Indigenous learner supports, targeted enrolment growth, and low income bursaries are all appreciated and necessary, but fail to tackle the problem head on.”

— With files from Mitchell Pawluk

Jin He

Jin previously served as the 2021-22 Production Editor at The Gateway. She also had a brief stint as 2022-23 Production Editor. She is in her first year studying pharmacy. If not sleeping, she can often be found supporting local artisans, obsessing over e-sports, and sporting some wicked earrings.

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