New AB budget continues UCP war on students

The UCP government issued their 4th provincial budget last week, and postsecondary students are getting dumped on. Again.

Last week, the Alberta government released their 2022–2023 budget. And things don’t look good for postsecondary students in Alberta.

For example, take a look at the amount of revenue the government reported in the budget for tuition over the last three years and for the next three years.

YearTuition revenueChange
2019–2020$1.311 billion$0.055 billion
2020–2021$1.323 billion$0.012 billion
2021–2022 (forecast)$1.496 billion$0.173 billion
2022–2023 (estimate)$1.645 billion$0.149 billion
2023–2024 (target)$1.720 billion$0.075 billion
2024–2025 (target)$1.754 billion$0.034 billion

What we see here is that the UCP, assuming they manage to keep 2022–2023 tuition revenue to $149 million like they’re planning, tuition revenue will have increased by $389 million during the four years they’ve been in office.

By comparison, during the four years the NDP were in office, tuition revenue went from $1.116 billion to $1.256 billion.

That’s an increase of only $140 million.

The UCP have increased tuition revenue at a rate that is 2.5 times higher than the NDP did during the same amount of time.

And again, that assumes their prediction is correct. At this point, last year is on track to bring in over $20 million more than they had budgeted.

Why the huge discrepancy?

Well, for one thing, the NDP had implemented a tuition cap, which restricted how much money they could make off of students.

The UCP removed that cap in their first budget, which they released in the autumn of 2019. That gave postsecondary institutions the freed to jack up tuition again, effective the 2020–2021 academic year, something they hadn’t been able to do for 5 years. The change allowed institutions to increase tuition by 7% every year for at least until the 2022–2023 fiscal year ends.

Now, when we look at how much the UCP predicts being spent on postsecondary operating expenses, it looks impressive on the surface.

2019–2020$5.477 billion$0.082 billion
2020–2021$5.132 billion-$0.345 billion
2021–2022 (forecast)$5.233 billion$0.101 billion
2022–2023 (estimate)$5.444 billion$0.211 billion
2023–2024 (target)$5.521 billion$0.077 billion
2024–2025 (target)$5.619 billion$0.098 billion

While it might seem great that the UCP are increasing operational spending on universities by $211 million this year, it’s still $33 million lower than what they spent 4 years ago in the 2019–2020 fiscal year.

The UCP cut spending by $345 million during their second year, but the increases over the last two years—assuming they meet their new forecast—still won’t be enough to make up for that huge cut.

We won’t see spending back at the 2019–2020 level until after the provincial election. By that point, however, we’ll already have had 3 years of inflation and population growth, which will be adding pressure on operating expenses.

In fact, that $5.421 billion forecast for next year is only 0.8% more than what it was 4 years earlier, making it an average increase of only 0.2% a year. That’s nowhere near enough to cover inflationary costs or costs brought about by there simply being more students.

But there’s something else you should know about those operating expense numbers.

This table shows breaks down postsecondary operating funding by two sources: public funding and own-source/reserve funding.

2019–2020$2.680 billion$2.367 billion$5.046 billion
2020–2021$2.516 billion$2.084 billion$4.600 billion
2021–2022 (forecast)$2.375 billion$2.411 billion$4.786 billion
2022–2023 (estimate)$2.379 billion$2.635 billion$5.014 billion
2023–2024 (target)$2.327 billion$2.703 billion$5.030 billion
2024–2025 (target)$2.329 billion$2.799 billion$5.128 billion

What we see here is that while the total amount of revenue for operating expenses increased last year and is forecasted to increase over the next 3 years, public funding has actually been going down.

For example, between 2019–2020 and 2024–2025, total funding should increase by $82 million, from $5.046 billion to $5.128 billion. Yet public funding will go from $2.680 billion to $2.329 billion, a drop of $351 million.

So, total funding is supposed to increase by $82 million over this 6 year period, yet public funding is supposed to decrease by 4 times that much.

Which means the increase will have to be made up by the universities, colleges, and trade schools themselves, through tuition, commercialization, donations, and whatnot.

And since the public contribution is dropping, the increases to own-source funding have to be pretty significant for their to be increases to total funding.

Sure enough, over this 6-year period, postsecondary institutions will be on the hook for an extra $432 million, going from $2.367 billion in 2019–2020 to $2.799 billion in 2024–2025.

In 2019–2020, postsecondary institutions had to come up with 47% of the revenue needed to cover operating expenses. By 2024–2025, that number will be 55%.

So, not only is the Government of Alberta taking in more tuition revenue, but because they’re giving less money to universities, colleges, and trade schools, they’re essentially double-dipping. They’re taking more money and they’re giving out (or keeping) less money

And as I mentioned last week, since being in power, the UCP government has sent roughly 1,500 postsecondary workers to the unemployment line. That means larger class sizes, fewer supervisors available for grad students, fewer lab assistants, and fewer support services.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on politics and labour.

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