Looking at all of the activity in Alberta politics over the past week it would seem obvious that we are not the only ones interested in the next provincial budget. The Progressive Conservative caucus held a two-day long meeting in Calgary last week to discuss among many other things the budget and it was revealed that the basic business plans and numbers of the budget were approved. No doubt some areas will still receive some tweaking and there is the issue of the new Finance Minister’s speech but on the whole the recommendations of groups like CAUS have all been decided upon and now we wait for the start of session on February 22.
It goes without saying that those of us at the CAUS and the students we represent believe that taking the opportunity to invest in post-secondary education is the right choice for this budget. Enrolment is climbing at our institutions but there remains insufficient spots to educate all who qualify and the available spots are unaffordable for many. That is why we proposed increasing funding to create more opportunities and to increase funding to up-front grants for students, the proven method of ensuring financial barriers do not get in the way of getting an education.
Last year Alberta Advanced Education and Technology received a $205 million cut, or 6% of their total budget. The 2010 budget calls for spending $3.2 billion and projects cutting that further to $2.9 billion in the next provincial budget, the one expected to be tabled in a few weeks. We have looked at the same numbers and believe there is a strong case for increasing our investment. Only a few weeks before we find out where the government places its priorities.
It came as a surprise to many Albertans, including us, when Premier Ed Stelmach announced his intention to not seek another term as Premier of Alberta and to step down as leader of the Progressive Conservatives. He was always known as a sincere and dedicated public servant, one who put post-secondary education near the top of his agenda and presided over important developments on our campuses.
In his announcement, Premier Stelmach referred to the upcoming budget as one that would “be received by most as tough yet responsible. But it will not be a budget that guts funding to municipalities, mothballs health projects underway or halts school, and road construction at a time when people need work and the prices for construction are good.”
CAUS is looking forward to the coming spring session of the Legislature and the provincial budget that hopefully protects our progress at Alberta’s universities while laying the groundwork for a system that is even more affordable, accessible and better quality.
All our best to you and your family Premier Stelmach, and thank you for your tireless service for the past 25 years.
Alberta economist Todd Hirsch wrote a great article in the Globe and Mail this weekend that I hope every Albertan, especially Finance Minister Dr. Ted Morton reads before budget day.
If provincial governments truly believe that postsecondary education is key to competing in the global economy – and they should – then properly financing it is a no-brainer. A separate, long-term postsecondary spending account would help. It’s an investment, not general program spending. And like any good investment, it deserves to be viewed over a long-term time horizon.
At the basic level most would have to agree with Hirsch – education is an investment. Let’s hope our government sees it the same way.
A fairly interesting post on academic freedom was put on the popular blog Boing Boing over the holidays and is well worth sharing. In particular, I liked this quote from Cambridge University’s Ross Anderson:
You seem to think that we might censor a student’s thesis, which is lawful and already in the public domain, simply because a powerful interest finds it inconvenient. This shows a deep misconception of what universities are and how we work. Cambridge is the University of Erasmus, of Newton, and of Darwin; censoring writings that offend the powerful is offensive to our deepest values.
It is good to be reminded why universities exist, what they do different than other parts of society and why private interests alone cannot create all of the knowledge we need moving forward as a society.