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UCP government funds apprenticeship positions while cutting post-secondary funding

By Nazeefa Ahmed, December 11 2023—

This September, the government of Alberta announced an additional 12.4 million dollar investment to fund apprenticeship seats for students. The funding is in response to an observed increase in demand for training in the trades.

“We are seeing double-digit jumps in apprenticeship registration for the first time in more than a decade,” said Advanced Education Minister Rajan Sawhney at a news conference at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology on Sept. 23. 

The money will be used to support 2000 new trade apprenticeship spots. In addition, another 15 million will be invested over three years to add 1000 new positions.

In a statement to the Gauntlet, the SAIT Students’ Association (Saitsa) stated their approval of the increased funding provided by the government. SAIT provides many apprenticeship programs for students as it is a polytechnic institute focusing mainly on applied skills. 

“Saitsa welcomes the investment by the province to expand the number of apprenticeships available for students to pursue. On-the-job training is an important part of many of our members’ post-secondary pathways, and the $12.4 million announced by the province in September will result in more opportunities at SAIT,” reads the statement. 

“Saitsa takes the view that all new investment at our institution is welcome – and we look forward to working with the provincial government to consider further investments in other student issues,” the statement continues.  

In an interview with the Gauntlet, Students’ Union Vice President External Mateusz Salmassi describes a contrasting picture. U of C students are struggling to find employment over the summer, citing the loss of student employment programs as the main cause. 

“Our most recent data shows that one out of five students who sought work over the summer were unable to find it,” said Salmassi.

The Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) used to subsidize employers to incentivize them to hire students over the summer — however, the program was cancelled in 2019. With an annual operating budget of 10 million dollars, the cancellation was part of a greater plan to decrease government spending, according to a statement from the spokesperson of the Ministry of Labour. 

“While we sympathize with employers who were hoping to receive free money in 2020, Albertans elected us to get the province’s financial house in order,” read the statement. “In this case, other resources are available to support employers and youth.” 

Additionally, post-secondary funding has decreased dramatically. According to a 2023 report from Higher Education Strategy Associates, the provincial government has simultaneously cut more than half a billion dollars in funding to postsecondary education between 2019 and 2023.

“The more notable effort was that of the Government of Alberta, which reduced budgeted funding to postsecondary education by 31% in real terms between 2019-20 and 2023-24,” reads a statement from the report.

Salmassi describes how the decreased funding and cancellation of programs like STEP puts U of C students in a vulnerable position. 

“I think it’s a slap in the face to students,” said Salmassi. “The Alberta Government uses a lot of language about making sure that the next generation has employment opportunities and has a stable future, while at the same time eliminating all the programs that would give university students summer employment that they might need to be able to pay for their degrees.” 

He also criticizes the elimination of the $1,200 education and tuition tax credits in 2019. During the provincial election campaigning period this year, Premier Danielle Smith had promised a non-refundable tax credit of $3000 to $10,000 for graduate students who stay in Alberta; however, there have been no updates on the plans since May 2023. 

“Essentially, what the Alberta Government has done is they’ve said, we’re going to defund your education, increase tuition and increase the tax burden on you, which they did in 2019,” said Salmassi. 

Given the recent financial decisions in relation to higher education by the Alberta government, a circulating opinion is that universities are transitioning from serving the public and democracy to serving the labour force. 

“There’s a real push to move universities away from their traditional mission of serving the public and democratic society, to narrow them and reduce them to serving industry and labour market needs,” said Marc Spooner, a professor in the faculty of education at the University of Regina in a statement to University Affairs.

In response, Salmassi discusses how the shift in the Alberta government’s funding shows how they are not prioritizing the ways that higher education can contribute to the economy. 

“I think that there’s a misunderstanding that that kind of studying is wasteful and that it’s non-productive, and that it’s just for people who have the time and the money. But I think the reality is that you can’t predict the ways that higher education will benefit the economy,” Salmassi continued.

More information about post-secondary funding can be found on the Higher Education Strategy Associates website

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