Failure to support students in 2021 provincial budget threatens Alberta’s economic recovery

News Staff - Thu Feb 25, 2021

Edmonton, AB (February 25, 2021) - The University of Alberta Students’ Union (UASU) is warning that the Government of Alberta’s continued refusal to properly invest in the post-secondary education system and its 260,000+ students will have significant negative impacts on Alberta’s ability to attract and retain talent, and to create a more diverse and innovative economy. For the third budget in a row, the government has imposed crippling cuts on post-secondary institutions. This choice is forcing a significant cost burden onto Alberta’s students and families, freezing more Albertans out of being able to access post-secondary education in their home province, and putting Alberta’s 60-year legacy of a strong post-secondary education system at high risk.

“The decisions behind today’s budget are incredibly frustrating and disheartening,” said Joel Agarwal, UASU President. “Though we understand the government's fiscal situation, they’re not seriously considering the long-term economic value of post-secondary education. That’s not only a problem for students, it’s a problem for all Albertans. We know that our province is at a fiscal and economic crossroads, and students, like all Albertans, have made heavy sacrifices. But maintaining a highly-skilled workforce requires affordable, high-quality education. If we keep cutting away at the future of our workforce, we stand no chance of digging ourselves out of this economic hole.”

The 2021 provincial budget continues to inflict deep, comprehensive cuts on post-secondary institutions. Annual operating grants are now over $400 million lower than they were at the beginning of the current government’s term. The minimal support for maintenance and renewal of critical teaching and research infrastructure continues to fall well below what is needed. While educational quality takes another hit, students are being burdened with even higher costs as a result of cuts to institutions. When new students begin their degrees in September, their tuition alone will already be 14.5% higher than it was two years earlier, adding at least $900 to annual undergraduate tuition costs.

Despite these cost increases and projected growth in the student population, the government has refused to allocate any additional funding towards up-front financial aid for lower income students. Students also continue to deal with lasting impacts of the 2019 provincial budget, including increased student loan interest rates and the elimination of tax credits for tuition and educational materials, which eliminated $200 million annually in financial support for students and families.

“Alberta’s post-secondary education system is nearing a crisis point, and we’re concerned about accelerated brain drain from our province,” said Rowan Ley, UASU Vice-President External. “Every Albertan should be able to study in Alberta, but our system doesn’t have enough room. We’d need the capacity for 47,000 more students just to get up to the national average, and that’s only going to rise as a wave of prospective students begins to exit high school. And the government’s decisions over the past two years have made the existing spaces much more expensive. Right now, that means students are paying more for a lower-quality educational experience. Without meaningful action to boost the affordability, quality, and capacity of our post-secondary education system, too many young, talented Albertans will be forced to move elsewhere to pursue attractive educational and employment opportunities, and we worry they won’t come back.”

The Students’ Union is the official representative of more than 34,000 undergraduate students at the University of Alberta. It acts as a strong advocate for students both on campus and at all levels of government.

For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact:

Robert Nelson
External Advocacy Advisor
University of Alberta Students’ Union

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