PSIs are vital to Alberta, Bill 18 will only hurt them

The effects of blocking research funding will go beyond just research.

Among students, it’s no secret that the Government of Alberta doesn’t do a great job of supporting Alberta’s post-secondary institutions (PSI) — and it’s only getting worse. The province hasn’t given PSIs adequate funding in years, and now it’s introducing legislation that gives it oversight over research funding. Bill 18, the Provincial Priorities Act, will only hurt PSIs’ ability to contribute to our province. It’s about more than just research. PSIs are major contributors to our economy, but Premier Danielle Smith has lost sight of that in the interest of her own political gains.

Rather than providing more funding to PSIs so they can thrive, Smith wants to control their research funding. Smith is concerned that only certain opinions get funding, but there’s little evidence to support that. With Bill 18, the province would have the ability to block federal research funding if deemed necessary. This bill will only lead to the politicization of research, but interfering with PSIs’ funding will have more than one consequence. PSIs are vital to our province’s innovation, growth, and economy. If Smith hurts PSIs, it will hurt Alberta as a whole.

A study found that in 2021-22, the University of Alberta contributed $19.4 billion to Alberta’s economy. The University of Calgary contributes about $16.5 billion a year. And that’s the impact of only two of 26 publicly funded PSIs in Alberta. PSIs make huge contributions to our economy, and they are integral to the growth and development of our entire province.

Research is a significant part of PSIs’ economic contributions. Of the $19.4 billion the U of A contributed to Alberta’s economy, research accounted for $8.2 billion. If the province uses Bill 18 to interfere with research grants, it could drive researchers away. This wouldn’t only hurt universities in Alberta — it would be a blow to our economy. It seems like Smith hasn’t even considered this because she’s too busy worrying about having the upper hand on the federal government. In no way will Albertans benefit from this — they’ll only feel the hurt.

Additionally, Bill 18 would damage PSIs’ budgets, which are already tight due to the province’s underfunding of them. Blocking research funding would cheat PSIs of funding they desperately need. According to the U of A’s 2023 Financial Statement Discussion, federal and other government grants account for 11 per cent of its budget. Denying such funding would hurt the entire institution — and the rest of the province. Alberta can’t prosper without functioning PSIs, and PSIs can’t function unless they’re well-funded.

The loss of researchers could also result in Alberta losing professors that perform research alongside teaching. Our PSIs need professors as much as researchers, if not more — and so do students. Having some of the best professors and leaders in various fields of study attracts students from around the world. Students could see valuable professors driven to other provinces for better opportunities. As a result, students would arguably start looking elsewhere for educational opportunities.

But if the loss of professors isn’t enough to drive students away, an increase in tuition would be. PSIs in Alberta have shown that tuition increases are the easiest way to compensate for their losses. If other provinces have PSIs with educational opportunities for a better price, why would students stay in Alberta? Alberta can’t afford to lose great researchers alongside future leaders of our province. This bill isn’t worth the possible damage.

Smith is losing perspective of what is best for the Albertans she’s supposed to be serving. It isn’t her job to interfere with research she doesn’t agree with. However, it is her job to support the faculty and students at PSIs that call Alberta home. Although research funding isn’t the bill’s main focus, the bill still manages to make research at Alberta PSIs unattractive. Smith needs to leave PSIs out of a fight they don’t belong in. Otherwise, all of Alberta will feel the hurt.

Leah Hennig

Leah is the 2024-25 Opinion Editor at The Gateway. She is in her first year studying English and media studies. In her spare time, she can be found reading, painting, and missing her dog while drinking too much coffee.

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