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Cutting the post-secondary budget during the pandemic

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On Feb. 25, the President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Finance, Travis Toews announced the details of the 2021 provincial budget. The new budget includes a reduction in funding to post-secondary institutions. The budget towards post-secondary education is in line with the 2021-24 Fiscal Plan of Alberta’s Treasury Board and Finance, in which the government aims to reduce the funds for post-secondary education and universities in years of  2021-24. The provincial budget for post-secondary funding in the 2019-20 school year was 5.47 million dollars. However, the 2020-21 school year’s budget was reduced to only 5.12 million dollars. The funding for post-secondary education is significantly lower in the incoming budget, with the funding lowered to 5.05 million in 2021-22. The 2021-24 Fiscal Plan also indicated how the government plans to raise the funding back again to $5.09 million in 2022-23 and $5.11 million in 2023-24.

“The government wants schools to cover 52 per cent of their own revenues by 2023-24 up from 47 per cent in 2020-21, “ Drew Anderson from CBC News wrote in an article dated Feb. 25. 

These decreased amounts of funding present a challenge for both post-secondary institutions and students, especially during the pandemic. The Students’ Association of MacEwan University (SAMU) released a statement dated March 1 regarding the budget 2021 for post-secondary education. SAMU stated in the news release that MacEwan University students’ tuition fees have inflated by an average of seven per cent across all programs for two years in a row already. The news release also included statements from president and vice president external of SAMU. 

“From certificates, to diplomas, to degrees, a university education has empowered Albertans entering and re-entering the workforce for decades, and that kind of economic stimulus is needed now,” said Sean Waddingham, the president of SAMU, in the news release. “More than ever, that investment needs to come through targeted funding for the post-secondary system.”

“We hear about the desire to make our universities into drivers of economic growth, but when it comes to making that a reality, we’re not seeing the needed support from the Government,” Ruan Bouwer, the vice president external of SAMU, said in the release. 

Just before the school year of fall 2020 started, MacEwan also sent an email to all students announcing that tuition fees would not be reduced for online classes, but the services that are not available for the students are not charged. Based on the tuition and terms fees indicated at MacEwan’s registry website, the tuition for each credit taken by Canadian students in different programs ranges from $150 to $230. If those prices are multiplied by 18 credits, the maximum credits that can be enrolled in each semester, then the overall tuition by credits would range from $2,700 to $4,140. Even if some of the services aren’t charged towards the students, the tuition fee itself is still high. The tuition for international students is significantly higher still. Since the provincial funding is reduced for post-secondary, the tuition fee is likely to  continue to increase each year for the students. 

“I think that cutting off the support for the institution is a huge problem because education is important,” Jewel Atun, a first-year psychology student at MacEwan, stated. “Without the support, many programs could be cancelled, and it’s devastating to see how limited our programs are in our province. Education needs to be supported.” 

Atun also added that it would be much more challenging to finance the students’ education while still fulfilling basic needs due to the pandemic and the lack of jobs.  

“It was already difficult to find the right program for me, so if the government cuts off the support for university, we will have less opportunity to experience different programs that could eventually suit us,” said Atun. 

Like Atun, there are many students out there who face similar difficulties due to decreased funds from the government towards universities and the massive amount of tuition fees. Having the budget cut could potentially decline opportunities for students, as well as raise tuition costs, which could lead to higher stress for current and prospective students.

Image courtesy of rawpixel.

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