Image courtesy University of Calgary

In Alberta, we’re cutting away our own future

Post-secondary cuts will hurt more than students.

Alberta is home to some of the country’s best post-secondary institutions.

In Calgary alone, it doesn’t matter what field of study interests you—whether trades, research or liberal arts. Or maybe you just want to re-skill or tack on a few extra qualifications. You’ll find a place to park your backpack.

The University of Calgary is one of the top ranking research institutions in Canada. Mount Royal University is renowned for its personalized approach to instruction and focus on the arts. SAIT is one of the best-resourced and diverse polytechnic institutions in the country, and Bow Valley College offers some of the best supports to new immigrants, international students and those looking for flexibility in their class schedule.

Each and every one of them is taking a sizeable hit in the Alberta government’s most recent budget.

Finance Minister Travis Toews began his speech by pitching this as a “compassionate” budget, which felt tone deaf for every low-income student working over 20 hours a week while managing a full course load. It’s a position I have found myself in many times over the last 10 years.

As students, we are taught to observe the evidence, review perspectives, and embrace the challenge of being wrong, not stubborn. A climate crisis is pending. Global leaders across all industries are shifting their priorities to match our current reality.

But in Alberta, instead of positioning ourselves to lead, we’re now poised to fall behind.

The world is changing—why aren't we?

Alberta already has one of the lowest provincial post-secondary participation rates in the country. Part of this can be attributed to the previous oil and gas boom, when young Albertans could graduate high school, walk out the door and be all but guaranteed a six-figure salary on the rigs.

While some of us might still be lucky enough to find work in the rapidly-changing energy industry, most of these positions now require some form of instruction from institutions like SAIT.

When CEOs of major energy companies are focused on transitioning to cleaner energy, it becomes even more of a pressing responsibility for the government to provide access to education, opportunity, and economic diversification.

Global leaders across all industries are shifting their priorities to match our current reality.

Promises of job creation and developing a skilled workforce ring hollow in the face of tuition potentially rising 21% over the next three years, alongside no investments in broadly-accessible student financial aid.

Outside of the classroom, cancellation of the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP) and the education and tuition tax credits will also hurt students.

If that wasn’t enough, the budget also included a 1% increase to the rate of interest on student loans. The national average debt load of a recent graduate amounts to approximately $25,000, and many Albertans are carrying much more than that.

Government representatives have been quick to remind us that Alberta spends much more on post-secondary education than any other province. I’d remind them that every other province has a provincial sales tax, higher rates of post-secondary participation and better financial aid.

The quality of services will also be significantly impacted on campuses across the province, including mental health supports, sexual violence prevention and food security, to name a few.

Not just a student concern

These cuts have far-reaching impacts outside the post-secondary sector. This becomes exponentially worrisome as health care and social services are already overburdened, and will now be underfunded.

Non-profit organizations will undoubtedly be overworked due to the cancellation of the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP), which allowed them to hire, train, and employ future graduates. Without this program, students will have fewer opportunities to find employment in their fields of study, while being forced to choose between unpaid internships or paying their bills.

Without financial aid, students will be forced to compromise their educational experience to afford burdensome increases in tuition. Without relevant work experience, students are half as likely to find gainful employment after graduation.

Without strong institutional funding, the spaces we’ve come to love and cherish—libraries, recreational facilities, concert halls and the like—will be harder to maintain.

These cuts to education put us at risk of falling far behind as a skilled, competitive and diversified workforce. And as a result of this budget, some of our most brilliant young citizens might never afford the opportunity that realizes their potential.

Shifrah Gadamsetti is a registered nurse, and has previously served as the president of the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University and chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. She also spent time in Edmonton as executive director of the Council of Alberta University Students. She’s still a student.

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