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UCP non-committal on state of university funding, budget awaited

By Kristy Koehler, September 20 2019—

The United Conservative Party appointed an independent panel of experts to review and evaluate the state of Alberta’s finances and economy. The Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances released a report and a series of recommendations at the end of August. The report, known as the MacKinnon Report after chairperson Janice MacKinnon, highlights three recommendations for advanced education.

While there is plenty to unpack in the three recommendations, there is one in particular that has some people worried about funding for universities.

Recommendation eight states that the government should “work with post-secondary stakeholders to achieve a revenue mix comparable to that in British Columbia and Ontario, including less reliance on government grants, more funding from tuition and alternative revenue sources, and more entrepreneurial approaches to how programs are financed and delivered.”

The recommendations have been accused of following in Ontario premier Doug Ford’s footsteps. Ford’s government announced a provincial budget in the spring that tied funding for universities to performance indicators such as job outcomes. Nursing programs generally produce graduates with nursing jobs and engineering programs produce graduates who go on to engineering jobs, but how this would be tracked with relation to funding for liberal arts programs is unclear. 

When asked what he would say to students concerned about funding to Faculty of Arts programs, Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Education, Demetrios Nicolaides, said that more time was needed to look at the MacKinnon Report.

“The MacKinnon Panel did make some comments about funding and the mechanisms with which we fund our post-secondary institutions,” said Nicolaides. “At this time, we’re spending more time to look through the MacKinnon Panel Report in more detail and to see how those recommendations can help inform government policies. At this point, we haven’t made any particular decisions as they relate to funding but we’re certainly looking at the conclusions of the MacKinnon Panel Report and those recommendations will help inform our policies.

“I would say that we’ll be working very diligently over the coming months as we prepare our budget and put the information together, and that we’ll be able to have a lot more clarity once we’ve been able to really go through the information, decide government policy and inform our budget,” he continued.

Nicolaides did, however, speak to the importance of education.

“The other thing I would say is every background, every academic pursuit, is incredibly important and contributes to a stronger society in one way or another,” he said. “I’m a PhD holder and pursued lots of educational opportunities out of academic interest and inquiry and I think there’s a lot of value to doing that.”

The UCP has yet to release a budget, but has warned that “spending restraint” is necessary.

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