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Alberta post-secondary students and faculty demand more provincial funding for public education

Concerns are being raised about the lack of funding that Alberta’s public post-secondary institutions are getting compared with private ones in the 2024 budget.

The president of the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations (CAFA) said this year’s budget provides a below-inflation increase in operational funding while throwing taxpayer money at private, for-profit career colleges.

At a press conference on Friday, Advanced Education Minister Rajan Sawhney announced that Budget 2024 will invest $55 million over three years to build a new multidisciplinary science hub at the University of Calgary.

That’s a move supported by students and staff but the U of C Students’ Union says it’s not enough to compensate for the losses associated with the budget.

The U of C Students’ Union says class sizes continue to grow, and the university is behind by hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs and maintenance. The union also said Alberta’s 2024 budget has cut per-capita spending on post-secondary funding by 7.3 per cent.

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CAFA says the increase for public colleges and universities is far below inflation and growth while the government is increasing taxpayer support for for-profit colleges such as Makimi College.

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“Our public institutions, our public universities are the way we maximize the value of our tax dollars and then saying to people you can do the same thing as the public but we’re going to guarantee profit for you as well is just throwing good money after bad,” said Dan O’Donnell, CAFA president.

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A spokesperson for Alberta’s Ministry of Advanced Education says Budget 2024 does not include direct funding to private career colleges.

“Budget 2024 includes nearly $394 million in net expense for private career colleges and student aid,”  said the ministry spokesperson in an email to Global News.

“You have to ask why would you bundle those two things together?  It doesn’t make much sense if your goal is to be transparent,” O’Donnell said.

“These (public) institutions are starved,” said Ricardo Acuña, executive director of the Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta. “Whether it’s direct funding to these institutions, or making it easier for people to get student loans to attend these institutions or grants or subsidies to attend, whatever envelope it comes down to – the direct result is public funding for a for-profit institution. That’s problematic, especially when public institutions are being starved of ongoing funding.”

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The president of the University of Alberta said in an announcement that the university’s provincial operating grant for the 2024- 25 academic year is the same amount it received in the last two budget cycles, during which inflation has increased by over 10 per cent.

With U of A applications up by 8 per cent last year, the university says there’s an urgent need for additional funding to support domestic enrolment growth. But U of A president Bill Flanagan says this budget “did not include any new funding for domestic enrolment growth for any degree programs at Alberta’s universities beyond the amounts previously announced in the existing Targeted Enrolment Expansion program.”

O’Donnell said not everything in the budget was bad for the sector, pointing to $55 million allocated to the University of Calgary to increase enrolment in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programming, $26 million in capital funding along with $43 million in operational fundings to the University of Lethbridge to establish a Rural Medical Teaching School in collaboration with the University of Calgary.

Acuña says the Alberta government is prioritizing private institutions while at the same time telling public universities and institutions to find other ways to raise money.

“It seems like they got it backwards. We’re telling public institutions to find ways to make their own money and we’re giving more tax dollars to private institutions, for-profit institutions and it seems like we’re heading in the wrong direction on both fronts,” Acuña said.

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&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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