Alberta freezes student assistance, operating grants

CAUS says budget does not improve access to university

While post secondary education in Alberta may have faired better with this year’s provincial budget than in 2010, some student representatives are still concerned that the funding allocated is not enough to make up for last year’s drastic cuts.

The ministry of Advanced Education and Technology saw a 1.2 per cent increase to its operational support budget, which covers basic operational funding for Alberta post secondary education. However, funding  for student assistance programs and operating grants to universities and colleges have been held at 2010 levels.

The budget also saw payouts from the Access to the Future Fund, an endowment created in 2005 to match private donations to post secondary institutions, suspended for two years, leaving $700 worth of donations left in limbo, according to the Edmonton Journal.

While spending for some programs in the Advanced Education and Technology ministry saw a slight increase, overall the department’s budget, totaled at $3 billion for 2011–12, saw a 9.6 per cent, or $320 million, decrease from last year. This was due to lower capital grants with projects such as the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Trades and Technology Complex nearing completion.

Last year’s budget saw universities scrambling to cover their costs, with provincial funding to the University of Alberta and University of Calgary lowered by $27 million and $7.8 million respectively.

Hardave Birk, chair of the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS), said he is worried that last year’s funding cuts, including $54 million from grants and bursaries for students, were not restored this year. He says this will result in heavier debt loads for some students and make it “tougher and tougher for students to access post secondary education.”

“This was definitely a step forward from what happened last year, but no where near far enough,” he said. Birk explained that ultimately, the CAUS would like to see the funding that was cut from post secondary education last year fully renewed “and would like the government to even go further.”

“At the end of the day, we want the government to increase access, and we want more people going into post secondary education in Alberta.”

Kim Capstick, spokesperson for the Alberta Ministry of Advanced Education and Technology, said that overall, the ministry was pleased to see a slight increase to their program expenses “considering the fiscal times.”

She pointed out that the province is still feeling the effects of the economic recession, and that the levels of funding CAUS is calling for is simply unavailable. “If there were more money available, we’d love to put more money into some of these programs, but the fact of the matter is, there isn’t more money available,” she said.