Reactions to Budget 2023: “A welcome change” for some, “more of the same” for others
U of A stakeholders called the budget everything from disappointing, to shameful, to a welcome change.
While certain investments from Budget 2023 are welcome, University of Alberta campus stakeholders feel as though there could have been more to support post-secondary institutions and students in Alberta.
Released on February 28, the budget includes various investments including new affordability measures for students, and targeted enrolment — but funding for the operational expenses of post-secondary institutions remained largely unchanged, increasing by $15 million.
Budget 2023 doesn’t adequately “provide immediate support for current students,” according to Students’ Union president
Abner Monteiro, president of the University of Alberta Students’ Union (UASU), said that more can be done to provide immediate support for current students, in areas such as cost of living, rising tuition, and food insecurity.
“After seeing the budget, it was disappointing. After years of cuts to the university, and post-secondary in general, people are considering the fact that we now have stability and lack of cuts. Having these framed as success reports for the post-secondary budget — it’s been disappointing to see,” Monteiro said.
“Nothing in this budget really does anything to provide immediate support for current students, and even into the very near future.”
Monteiro added that the government could’ve found additional ways of supporting students facing tuition increases, such as creating bursaries or grants that aren’t only for students in specific programs.
“There’s a lot of targeted support for various specific programs and areas, but all students are struggling right now. They absolutely could have created some kind of bursary or grant to provide aid for students across any program at the university, or across all of our post-secondaries,” he said.
Budget 2023 promises new affordability measures for students, including a two per cent cap on tuition increases, an increase in the grace period for student loans, a decrease to the student loan interest rate, an increase in the threshold for the Repayment Assistance Plan, and additional funding for the Alberta Student Grant.
Monteiro said that these measures “are a step in the right direction,” and are welcome changes for students who are near to graduation. He pointed out that for current students, the tuition cap “is definitely a start and move in the right direction,” but students can still expect post-secondary institutions to submit increases of two per cent in 2024-25, and after.
The budget also allocates $111 million over three years for targeted enrolment growth, but funding for the operational expenses of post-secondary institutions remains largely unchanged from 2022-23, which is why Monteiro has “concerns about quality of education.”
“How is the university supposed to be planning to offer high-quality courses, and how can students expect a high-quality experience, if we don’t have predictable funding?”
Official opposition says “don’t be fooled,” calls Budget 2023 more of the same
Official opposition member and shadow critic for advanced education David Eggen expressed that while this budget has some funds for post-secondary, it’s a drop in the bucket when put into the larger context. Eggen said that he is concerned about the accumulation of effects from the last few UCP budgets.
“This budget might have been an opportunity to turn the corner, but instead, it’s just more of the same.”
“People shouldn’t be fooled that this is anything but a continuation of the UCP’s lack of respect for advanced education,” Eggen said. “They’ve taken $1.2 billion out and put pennies on the dollar back in with some small announcements.”
When asked if he felt that this budget was an election budget, Eggen said, “I guess so. I mean, it seems so misdirected and somehow deceptive. They have not done anything to repair the damage that they made over the last three years.”
Eggen said that the “pennies” being put back into the system are trying to create a perception of investment in the post-secondary system, but that “people in advanced education, and Albertans in general can see through this.”
“They like to announce small things here and there, but the reality of money taken out of the system, and the burden of debt put onto students, will literally close the door for many Albertans to even consider going to school, because they can’t afford it.”
Eggen emphasized the importance of seeing this budget in the larger context of multiple years’ worth of budget cuts and resulting job losses at post-secondaries across the province.
“Read the fine print. Don’t be fooled.”
CAUS says Budget 2023’s affordability measures are “a welcome change”
The Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) represents the interests of over 114,000 university students across Alberta. On February 28, CAUS released a statement about their stance on the updated funding allocations for post-secondary education in Budget 2023.
The statement outlines how CAUS is “pleased to see these changes,” but will continue to advocate for “more immediate affordability supports for students,” and additional investments towards career programming, supports for Indigenous students, and safer campuses.
“The ongoing focus on long-term affordability measures is a welcome change, one that will benefit this province’s students, as well as students yet to come.”
“It’s shameful that the budget does so little to shield students,” AASUA president says
Gordon Swaters, president of the Association of Academic Staff of the University of Alberta (AASUA), said that Budget 2023 is “hell-bent on diminishing the capacity of this university to deliver top-tier research, teaching, education, and research productivity.”
The U of A has faced a total of $222 million in cuts since 2019. Since then, educators, teachers, researchers, and support staff at the U of A “are still reeling from the cuts, and the budget provides no comfort,” Swaters said.
“We’re very lucky in Alberta to have a top-four, research and teaching intensive university in the country. It takes money to sustain that level of excellence.”
Swaters added that AASUA aims to maintain the learning experience of students, and “it’s shameful that the budget does so little to shield students.”
“Our working conditions are your learning conditions, and we’re trying to preserve the learning experience for students. Each year, the provincial supports shrink, our workload grows, and it grows in ways that take us away from our core mission of teaching and research.”
Sydney Tancowny, vice-president of the Non-Academic Staff Association (NASA), said that the increases in funding are marginal, particularly in light of inflation. “So really, this is actually a cut.”
“And with previous budget cuts, we know that support staff have faced the brunt of it.”
She said that losing so many support staff means that “there’s less people to do the work” and that those left are overworked.
“Students are less likely to have an opportunity to speak directly with someone when they have a problem. The time to complete tasks has increased. Students are taking courses in dirty classrooms.”
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