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Blame the government, not U of C admin

By Derek Baker, January 29 2015 —

When the university doesn’t have enough money, students are often asked to pick up the cost.

Students are quick to criticize any attempt by administration to raise tuition or residence fees. We complain when the university attempts to cut programs or pull back on services. Our reaction is understandable, but our complaints are misplaced. 

In March 2013, the provincial government cut $147 million from post-secondary funding across Alberta. Though a fraction of that money was returned to university operating budgets in November that same year, the University of Calgary expected a $36-million revenue gap in this year’s budget. This disparity means the university is operating under fiscal pressure. This gap was also cited as a reason for market modifiers last year. 

The Albertan government has returned a portion of the cuts, but post-secondary schools across the province still receive $64.5 million less than they did in 2012. Coupled with inflation and a rising student population, many institutions don’t have enough money to keep everything running.

The return in funding hasn’t been distributed evenly across the province. Some institutions received an increase in funding to the level they were at before the cuts, while others are close to breaking even. But the U of C hasn’t recovered the same funding from before the 2013 cuts. Administration can’t demand more money from the government, but they can demand it from students. 

It’s important that students are active in the face of fee hikes. Our opposition to decisions that hurt our education should be organized and widespread. But we need to re-evaluate who we’re putting pressure on. University administration is handed a set amount of money from the provincial government. Complaining to admin won’t make more money appear. 

University administration isn’t completely blameless. There are problems at the administrative level, including higher-than-average executive salaries. But the underlying issue is an Albertan government that refuses to invest in the future.

Alberta’s economy lives on oil royalties. Energy is an economically volatile resource and our fortunes rise and fall with the price of oil. Right now, the price for a barrel of oil is less than half of what it was a year ago. Making up this shortfall in revenue means austerity, where important services like health care and education are cut to balance the budget. 

As the provincial government begins to talk about austerity, it’s more important for students to pressure the government not to slash away at post-secondary funding. We should also consider giving U of C administrators a little less grief while they scramble to deal with the provincial government’s mishandling of money. 

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