2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

Samantha Lucy

Universities can’t hide from recession

It’s no secret that Alberta is in the midst of a deep recession. When the latest provincial budget revealed Alberta’s deficit could top $10.4-billion next year, finance minister Joe Ceci warned Albertans to prepare for once-in-a-generation economic challenges.

The provincial government has tried to shelter post-secondary institutions from the recession. The NDP implemented a two-year tuition freeze last September, meaning the cost of tuition cannot be raised until the 2017 fall semester. The government also rolled back previously approved market modifiers, which would have raised the cost of tuition for some programs by more than 25 per cent in a single year — well above the rate of inflation.

These measures have made an impact. But look around the University of Calgary campus and you’ll still see the recession rear its ugly head.

The Students’ Union approved their first reading of their 2016–17 operating budget on June 7. This year more than last, the budget features evidence of cost-cutting measures and hardships. Bound and Copied is dealing with an increase in the cost of consignment and printing. The SU is seeing decreased revenue from MacHall concerts. Drink prices went up at the Den. A handful of SU employees were even laid off this year.

Another noticeable example is the SU food bank, which has seen a steady increase in usage for the last few years. The service provides emergency food hampers to U of C students, staff and alumni. In 2014–15, 631 people accessed the food bank — 25 per cent more than in 2013–14 and 114 per cent more than in 2012–13.

Unfortunately, the food bank has also seen a recent decline in both food and monetary donations. The cost of food in Canada went up four per cent in 2016 and people may be less willing to part with their groceries as a result.

But it’s not just the SU dealing with economic pressures — the university as a whole is tightening its belt.

Vice-provost libraries and cultural resources Tom Hickerson spoke recently about how the devaluation of the Canadian dollar has impacted the U of C’s libraries. Most transactions the department makes are in American currency, and with academic journal prices increasing 4.5–6 per cent every year, the libraries are forced to be more strategic with their budgeting.

The university unsubscribed from its Oxford Journals package — a bundle of 313 journals costing $124,000 — last December. Hickerson called
unsubscribing from the package an “evidence-based decision.” He said with increased costs every year, and no increased allocations for library budgets, it’s harder and harder to justify some of the libraries’ expenses.

Economic recessions can lead to increased crime. This has manifested at the U of C in a recent uptake in theft.

The U of C saw a spike in theft in March. A few weeks ago, two suspects were charged with stealing more than 50 credit cards from Calgary’s post-secondary institutions. Many of the thefts occurred at the U of C and the suspects were identified on our campus.

What all these events prove is that universities cannot shelter themselves from economic turmoil. Steps can be taken to cushion the blow, but economic struggles persist.

That’s not even mentioning the struggle to find jobs. Thousands of students graduated last week, and many will be hard pressed to find work in their respective fields.

What’s important to remember is that as a community, we’re all in this together. We showed that resiliency last month, when the campus came together to support evacuees from the Fort McMurray wildfires. The U of C opened its doors to over 1,400 evacuees — more than anywhere else in the province. Multiple clubs, faculties and departments opened up their services to those in need, regardless of their own hardships.

Getting through a recession isn’t easy, but it’s easier when everyone has each other’s backs. It’s important to keep that mentality in mind going forward.

Scott Strasser, Gauntlet Editorial Baord

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