Dozens of university students in Calgary gathered to protest continued cuts to post-secondary education spending by the Alberta government.
It was organized by the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts Students’ Association and held at the same time as similar protests by students of the University of Alberta, MacEwan University and University of Lethbridge.
They are calling for the “reversal of nearly $700 million in budget cuts to post-secondary education and the re-institution of a tuition freeze,” Sofia Huarte Aguilar told Global News during the one-day strike.
On the U of C campus, students formed a picket line outside drama faculty classes, each with squares of red fabric pinned to them as a symbol of solidarity.
“The red square is to say that we are squarely in debt. Squarely in the red.”
“Students are going hungry because the cost of their education is so high here at the University of Calgary,” said Huarte Aguilar, the strike’s spokesperson.
A recent survey done for Meal Exchange, a national campus food security charity, showed more than half of the 845 U of C students who participated in the online survey in the fall of 2021 expressed some degree of food insecurity.
Chaise Combs, VP communications of the Faculty of Arts Students’ Association, said the decrease in proportion of university funding from the province makes life harder for students, who often have to shoulder that load.
“It stresses the students out about their future,” he said. “They’re worried about leaving school burdened by debt. It makes it harder in the future for them to buy a home – they have to delay that, perhaps delaying starting a family.”
Aguilar added the students she’s spoken with realize the student body is the lifeblood of the school, without whom the school would not be viable.
“It is important that our right to education is respected and that the provincial government understands that we are not going to just take the lower quality of education that they are giving us for higher prices.”
“Ultimately, the school, the university system cannot function if students withhold their participation,” Combs said. “We need to graduate, students from high school need to come in every year. If we refuse to go… it just gums up the whole system.”
In a statement, the minister of Advanced Education, Demetrios Nicolaides, said there are more supports available to students in the latest budget: $12 million in additional scholarships and $15 million in bursaries for low-income students.
“Over the past few years we have worked to bring post-secondary funding in-line with other provinces and we have made considerable progress in that regard and are now providing new investments into post-secondary education,” the statement reads.
“Budget 2022 provides $235 million in new funding over three years to advanced education, which includes $171 million over three years to create 7,000 new spaces at our universities, colleges and polytechnics.”
According to budget documents, that $171 million is for “targeted enrollment expansion in the areas of technology, agriculture, financial services and aviation.”
Of the remainding $235 million mentioned by the minister, $59 million is earmarked for the U of C’s veterinary school and $5 million is to go towards training opportunities for Indigenous people.
Aguilar didn’t have animosity for the university, which she credited for creating a learning environment where students feel safe.
In a statement from the University of Calgary, the university said it supports rights to respectful, free speech and has been forthright in its communication.
“The university has been transparent with students and the community over the past three years regarding its plans to align tuition with the requirements of the Alberta Tuition Framework,” the statement reads, noting the university has heard the concerns of students through a variety of methods.
“Student feedback helps to shape the annual tuition proposal that has resulted in tuition rates at UCalgary remaining lower, in many instances, compared to other U15 post-secondary institutions.”
Possibly the first picket line of many at the University of Calgary campus, Aguilar said Monday’s was the culmination of “every avenue” of advocacy.
“The provincial government continues to turn a blind eye on the pleas of students saying our education matters and we are tired of this.”
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