U of C, provincial budgets portend a brain drain, says student leader

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Provincial austerity trickling down to post-secondary budgets could prompt a brain drain from Alberta, a University of Calgary student leader said Monday.

UCalgary has little choice but to pass on the tough fiscal medicine meted out by the UCP government, the last coming from the provincial budget that cut funding to the university for 2021-2022 by $25 million, said Frank Finley, president of the UCalgary students’ union.

That means UCalgary has been dealt a 16.9 per cent cut to its provincial grant since 2018-2019, an envelope of money that now sits at $412.5 million.

“When you cut $80 million in just over two years, it leaves them in a next-to-impossible situation,” said Finley.

The university’s budget approved late last week by UCalgary governors includes an average seven per cent tuition hike, though it’s been raised by 10 per cent for a few faculties.

During a pandemic with fewer employment opportunities, it’s magnified hardship among students, said Finley.


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“Students are worried they’ll have to choose between food, rent and paying for post-secondary,” he said.

It’s an accumulating reality that has an increased number of better-educated young people souring on the province, said Finley.

“There’s not a day goes by that I don’t hear someone feeling they should leave Alberta because of these government cuts,” he said. “It takes away the ability of people to choose their own paths and that hurts all Albertans.”

While the university expected a 5.25 per cent cut in its provincial grant, it ended up being six per cent, or a $25-million reduction.

It’s part of a 5.4 per cent decrease in post-secondary operations’ funding across the province.

It’s expected that 750 jobs will be eliminated in universities and colleges provincewide, while at the UCalgary, 550 positions have been eliminated since 2018-2019.

UCalgary officials say austerity in successive Alberta budgets makes clear they’ll have to raise more revenue themselves while increasing efficiencies.

One avenue being considered is farming out operations of the UCalgary bookstore to the private sector — a notion that’s meeting resistance from students who fear higher book prices among other consequences.

“It will be evidence-based and data-driven to ensure we make the proper decision,” said Linda Dalgetty, UCalgary’s vice president of finance and services.

Another obvious route is increasing tuition, which will rise by the maximum allowable seven per cent through 2022-2023, say university officials who defended the decision as spreading the pain.


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“Given the magnitude of these cuts, we have to look at them as a shared responsibility,” UCalgary President Ed McCauley said in a virtual town hall Monday.

“We’re a very cost-effective university.”

Student tuitions and fees now comprise 21.5 per cent of UCalgary revenues.

Grant reductions made since 2018-2019 equal eliminating an entire major faculty, say university officials.

But in his own virtual town hall last week, Premier Jason Kenney said Alberta universities have operated at twice the level of per-student spending than some other prestigious schools elsewhere in Canada.

“The reality is the cost of universities went out of control and became outliers,” said Kenney.

“Our challenge to Alberta university administrations and their boards is to learn how universities in the rest of Canada operate so much more efficiently or at least with less government subsidies.”

The province is exploring ways to give universities more power in raising their own revenues, said Kenney.

UCalgary’s McCauley said his university has already become cost-competitive with those in Ontario and B.C.

And he echoed Finley’s concerns about keeping the province’s universities attractive to prospective students and staff.

“We’re explaining the value post-secondary institutions bring to the province. . . We need to be able to grow and attract talent,” said McCauley.


on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn


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