By Gayathri Peringod, November 4 2019—
The University of Calgary is bracing itself for rainy days ahead following the release of the United Conservative Party government’s provincial budget in late October.
In an effort to rebalance the provincial budget, the released budget entails cuts to advanced education operations in Alberta.
The university is facing an immediate $32.9 million cut to its $479 million operating grant, with more cuts to come over the next three years, the Students’ Union of the U of C announced in an email to students earlier this week.
While it is unclear which parts of the administration will bear the brunt of these cuts, the SU has projected potential cuts to faculties, loss of instructors and reduction in student services like mental health supports, wellness services and the Student Success Centre. Tuition can also go up by seven per cent each year for the next three years.
“The budget will have an immediate, profound and damaging impact on our experience as University of Calgary students,” the SU email read. “The cost of our education is going up. We are likely to see lasting effects across campus.”
The budget outlines that student tuition as set by the university is allowed to go up by a maximum of seven per cent per year for the next three years, lifting the tuition freeze that has been in place for the past five years. Individual programs within faculties could see additional increases of up to 10 per cent per year.
“The current tuition that an average student pays is about $2,692.95, according to the University of Calgary’s undergraduate student cost estimator,” stated SU president Jessica Revington in a presentation to the representatives of the Students’ Legislative Council during their weekly meeting last Tuesday, which featured a discussion of the financial consequences of the UCP budget.
“Overall, over the next three years, your average undergraduate student in the Faculty of Arts for example would be paying about 600 more dollars in tuition based on these simple increases.
“It’s really important to note that this base cost of tuition does not include any additional fees that students pay […] like the Student Services fee, athletics fee, Dinos fee, the residence fee or the meal plan fee,” Revington stated.
Revington went on to emphasize that this base fee would be for a domestic student.
“One of the biggest surprises from the provincial budget was that no mention of international students was noted anywhere,” she said. “This means that there really is no cap in the same way on international student tuition.
“This is incredibly concerning for us, because we know already that international students pay a significant amount in tuition.”
Those taking student loans will also be paying back more in the long run. Student loan interest will increase by one per cent as of April 1, 2020.
The provincial government will also cancel tuition tax credits beginning in the 2020 tax year, preventing students from getting tax breaks as a result of paying tuition. Funding for financial aid is also projected to decline, although when and by how much has not yet been determined.
The Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) — a student body representing over 100,000 students from the U of C, University of Alberta, University of Lethbridge, Mount Royal University and MacEwan University — released a statement on Oct. 24 denouncing the cuts.
“The government committed to support ‘post-secondary education as critical to both Alberta’s future economy and to a vibrant Alberta,’ ” said Sadiya Nazir, CAUS Chair and vice president external of the U of C Students’ Union.
“Cuts to funding for these institutions that impact the quality of instruction or student supports outside of the classroom should be a last resort.”
Some programs have been permanently cancelled or suspended for this year. The Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP) — which provided funding to connect students to summer employment opportunities in Alberta and accounted for a significant proportion of jobs in the nonprofit sector — has been cancelled.
“The elimination of STEP was a huge surprise to us … this is an elimination of essentially 2,500 to 3,000 youth and student jobs across Alberta,” said Revington in her presentation to SLC. “Yes, the program was not perfect, but it provided students with opportunities to develop their skills and actually incentivized nonprofit employers to hire student employees.
“Across Alberta, by removing this program, there are now additional barriers to experiential work-integrated learning. And there’s no proposed replacement. There’s nothing.”
In addition, the Infrastructure Maintenance Program, which oversees the maintenance and upkeep of buildings in the university, has been suspended for 2019–20.
“UCalgary was expecting to receive $22 million this year to help repair and maintain classrooms, labs, and study spaces on campus. Now they won’t be able to,” the SU’s email statement to students opined.
These budget decisions are in line with the budget recommendations of the MacKinnon Report, a report released in August by an independent panel of experts commissioned by the UCP government to review the province’s finances and recommend ways to bring the budget back to balance.
“The report suggested less reliance on provincial government grants, following the model of Ontario post-secondary institutions,” said Nazir in last Tuesday’s SLC meeting.
“The recommendations for post-secondary did concern us […] since then, we have been meeting with MLAs and ministers including the Minister of AdvancedEducation Demetrios Nicolaides and the Minister of Labour Jason Copping, who oversees the STEP program, which as now been eliminated. We’ve really tried to promote what student priorities need to be taken into consideration as the government moves forward after the MacKinnon Report.”
“Everything is on the table.”
In response to these updates, the SU issued a plea to students to express their opinion of the provincial budget.
“At the forefront of our minds is student consultation […] unless students tell us exactly how this is impacting them, we will not be able to accurately and effectively advocate to the university and the government on your behalf,” said Revington.
“I would love nothing more than to rock up to the Tuition and Fees consultation committee with a stack of 300 letters from students and drop them down and say ‘[For] these students, you cannot raise tuition in the way […] that you’re thinking, because you will impact these students, these are 300 student stories, there’s hundreds if not thousands more students that feel the same way on campus,’” Revington continued.
The SU president then directed meeting attendees to a webpage on the SU website that provides students with budget updates and details the student body’s recommended calls to action. A letter from Revington on the SU website urges students to speak up about their reaction to the budget cuts to post-secondary education.
“We know students are upset and want to mobilize,” said Revington. “Right now, everything is on the table […] we will keep you informed. We need your help.”
The Gauntlet misquoted Jessica Revington in the second to last quote. It has been brought to our attention and corrected. We apologize for the error.