UCP’s latest budget continues their war on students

The UCP government issued their 5th provincial budget last week, and postsecondary students are getting dumped on. Again.

Last week, the Alberta government released their 2023–2024 budget. In fact, it’s likely their last one before the next election.

I’ve already looked at how it affects public sectors jobs, where the revenue came from to balance the budget, and the underfunding of health.

Today, I’m looking at postsecondary in Alberta under this new budget, and, well, things don’t look that great for students.

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For example, take a look at the amount of revenue the government reported in the budget for tuition over the last four 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$1.465 billion$0.142 billion
2022–2023 (forecast)$1.667 billion$0.202 billion
2023–2024 (estimate)$1.771 billion$0.104 billion
2024–2025 (target)$1.865 billion$0.034 billion
2025–2026 (target)$1.902 billion$0.037 billion

What we see here is that the UCP, assuming they manage to keep 2023–2024 tuition revenue to $1.667 billion like they’re planning, tuition revenue will have increased by $356 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 freedom 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.

Last month, the UCP announced that they were bringing back tuition caps, but they won’t be quite the same. You see, the NDP capped tuition, while the UCP are going to cap increases to tuition.

Under the NDP, universities, colleges, and trade schools weren’t allowed to increase tuition. The UCP, on the other hand, will allow increases to tuition, but those increases can’t be more than 2%.

And remember, that’s only over the four years the UCP have been in office. If they get reelected, they plan to take in an additional $233 million in tuition revenue over the next 3 years.

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$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

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.

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$2.375 billion$2.411 billion$4.786 billion
2022–2023 (forecast)$2.431 billion$2.702 billion$5.133 billion
2023–2024 (estimate)$2.446 billion$2.843 billion$5.289 billion
2024–2025 (target)$2.467 billion$2.950 billion$5.417 billion
2025–2026 ( target$2.488 billion$3.070 billion$5.558 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 2025–2026, total funding should increase by $512 million, from $5.046 billion to $5.558 billion. Yet public funding will go from $2.680 billion to $2.448 billion, a drop of $192 million.

So, total funding is supposed to increase by half billion dollars over this 6-year period, yet public funding is supposed to decrease by 3 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 there 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 a whopping $3.070billion in 2025–2026.

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 1,200 postsecondary workers to the unemployment line since they’ve been in power. That means larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, 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 queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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