Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove tabled the 2011 provincial budget in the Legislature, projecting a $3.4 billion deficit but offering little in the way of debt relief or improved classroom conditions for Alberta’s university students. Total spending in Alberta Advanced Education and Technology is cut by $320 million, or 9.6% from 2010, most of that from new capital projects on campus. Operating funds to Alberta’s post-secondary institutions were increased by 1.2%, an increase that is not keeping with enrolment increases or inflation in Alberta.

“We are worried that students are going to see the quality in our classrooms suffer,” said Hardave Birk, chair of the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) and University of Calgary Students’ Union VP External. “Any increase is better than a cut but we can’t help but wonder if it is enough of an increase to operating funds to prevent the planned cuts in the classroom or our institutions from going after students for the money to run our institutions.”

The budget is suspending payouts from the Access to the Future Fund, an endowment setup in 2004 to encourage innovation through matching private donations in the post-secondary system. The program is suspended until 2013.

Student financial aid also has not recovered from 2010 budget cuts, with no major changes to the aid system planned. Students are concerned about the impact of the lack of non-repayable assistance affecting those moving through the system and those looking to apply for September.

“Alberta has the lowest post-secondary participation rate in the country – a serious problem given our province’s labour shortage. Today’s budget did not include increases to grants which would have signaled that the government is committed to addressing that problem,” said Birk.