Last week, the UCP government announced that they planned to spend nearly $200 million to create nearly 3,000 new seats in postsecondary institutions in the province.
The announcement was confusing actually. They claim they were planning $193 million, but elsewhere, Demetrios Nicolaides, the minister of advanced education said it was $111 million. As well, the announcement said it would end up creating “nearly 8,000 new seats”, but then also list a “grand total” of 2,840 seats.
Here’s how the spending breaks down for each region:
You can check out the announcement for the breakdown for each school and programme, but keep in mind that “programs receiving funding in 2023 are chosen based on workforce needs, learner demand and institutional capacity”.
While any funding for postsecondary is better than no funding, there is some context we need to keep in mind when looking at these numbers.
First of all, according to the headcount enrolment data published by the Alberta government back in February, there were 270,095 unique students enrolled in 25 postsecondary institutions during the 2021–2022 academic year in Alberta.
This means that these new 2,840 seats represent an increase of just 1.05%.
Between the first quarter of 2022 and the first quarter of 2023, Alberta’s population changed from 4,482,385 to 4,647,178, an increase of 3.68%. These new seats won’t even be enough to cover demand from an increased population, let alone any demand from potential underfunding.
Speaking of which.
Take a 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||$5.280 billion||$0.148 billion|
|2022–2023 (forecast)||$5.422 billion||$0.142 billion|
|2023–2024 (estimate)||$5.604 billion||$0.182 billion|
|2024–2025 (target)||$5.730 billion||$0.126 billion|
|2025–2026 (target)||$5.862 billion||$0.132 billion|
While it might seem great that the UCP are increasing operational spending on universities by $182 million this year, it’s actually $127 million lower than what they spent 4 years ago in the 2019–2020 fiscal year. That’s because for the last 3 years, they spent less than they did their first year in office.
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 weren’t 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 $5.422 billion forecast for the current budget 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.
So, while it’s great they plan to spend nearly $60 million on creating these new seats, it comes after years of underfunding by this government. We’re basically playing catch up.
There is one other issue.
Let’s look at the University of Lethbridge’s Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree for example. The provincial government planned to spend $1.75 million to add 100 more seats to the programme.
To finish this programme, you must take 40 courses, 8 of which must be specific computer science courses, as well as 6 elective computer science courses, which are up to the students but must be at the 3000 or 4000 level, and 2 more 4000 level computer science courses.
However there is also a specific math course that is required. As well, students have a choice of one choice from a group of 4 math courses and a statistics course. The programme also requires 4 fine arts or humanities electives and 4 social science electives.
The problem is that there is no indication that any of this money will go toward increasing capacity in those math courses, fine arts or humanities courses, or social sciences courses, let alone any other 14 remaining courses that would be taken outside of the computer science offerings.
That means that these 100 news students may end up finding out that they aren’t able to graduate because they non-computer science courses they needed were filled because they didn’t have the extra funding they needed to offer new sections. or they may have to take it through another institution altogether.