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Message from AUFA President Regarding the Alberta Budget

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Dear AUFA members,

As you are all likely aware, last Thursday, the Alberta government released its 2019-2020 budget.

In a nutshell, Athabasca University will take 3.6% hit to base grant and loses infrastructure funding. All in all, about $3.4m loss in 2019/20. The glib explanation offered for how the budget was devised is that cuts are based on the capacity for an institution to absorb cuts.

Given that AU is running an approximately $14m surplus, the relatively modest cut that Athabasca received in the budget is likely a manageable cut. To date there has been no discussion offered regarding tuition increases beyond lifting the tuition cap.

For comparison, The U. of A. and U. of Calgary received 6.9% cuts, while Grant MacEwan received a 7.9% cut, with Athabasca and Lethbridge receiving 3.6% cuts. Mount Royal only received a 1.3% cut. Inexplicably, the four faith based institutions and Concordia University Edmonton did not suffer any cuts whatsoever.

This is not to say that we should not be concerned. Quite the opposite. The projected cuts to the post-secondary budget over the course of four years, factoring the cost of inflation will be much higher by the time the four year cycle is completed.

“The multi-year Business Plan goes on to suggest suggests that by 2022-23 the cut in net operating will be over 38% from last year’s actuals. Now, net operating results in the business plan aren’t quite the same thing as transfers to institutions in the estimates, but they’re close ($2.57B vs $2.27B). It’s hard to tell exactly what that means, but to me it sure raises the possibility that additional cuts of 20%-25% are baked into the plan for the next three years.”

Higher Ed Strategy

The 2019 provincial budget projects 764 fewer jobs at post-secondary institutions and government agencies by March 2020. The budget when read along side the four year business plan is indeed alarming.

I think that we should be concerned not only about the budget for the post-secondary, but also the entire provincial budget which demonstrates a lack of concern—or rather to be blunt—punitive disdain for the public sector. In addition to the cuts to K-12 education, AISH, health care, and seniors, the province transferred the administration of the pension plans for the Alberta Teacher Association, and Alberta Health Services employees to AIMCo -- without any consultation or warning whatsoever to the administrators of those plans. In the case of the ATA, whose plan is worth nearly 18 billion dollars, the plan had been administered by the Alberta Teachers' Retirement Fund Board (not unlike the UAPP, under which AUFA members’ pension are administered) since 1939.

Furthermore, the government has indicated that they will be mandating a 2-5% rollback on wages in the next rounds of public sector bargaining. We simply can not absorb any further freezes or rollbacks to our wages. This has serious implications for pensions for many of our members and day to day budget planning for the rest of us.

The most distressing part of the Post-secondary budget is two-fold. The massive cuts to the infrastructure funding to post-secondary institutions will make meeting the student and research demands extremely difficult. The lifting of the cap on tuition may mean that the cost of tuition will rise beyond the cost of inflation, a scenario that will mean that education in Alberta, unsupported by government investment, will become overly costly and will drive students elsewhere.

Also of concern is the suggestion that universities will be placed on a performance based funding model in 2020-2021. However, it is entirely unclear what this is and how this will be measured and funded. As we know from other jurisdictions, such as Ontario, who has since nearly abandoned this model, these types of metrics based funding are doomed to fail.

My take on the budget is that the provincial government does not see the value in investing in the public sector in general, and in our case, post-secondary education specifically. Nor are they keen to learn about why that would be good for the economy.

As for where that leaves AUFA? I believe that we are in for the fight of our lives—a fight to defend the principles of post-secondary education, our jobs, our research and our role in the social good and well-being of the communities in which post-secondary institutions across the province reside.

This is a fight we can not, and will not lose.

 

In solidarity,

Jolene