By Lethbridge Herald on March 6, 2015.
“In a time of an economic downturn, is it a smart thing to cut post-secondary education? Absolutely not.”
So says Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director for Public Interest Alberta (PIA), regarding the indication from Premier Jim Prentice that operational funding of post-secondary education could again see massive cuts, possibly between five and 10 per cent, when the provincial budget is released on March 26.
In partnership with a large network of students, faculty and staff of Alberta’s post-secondary institutions, PIA has launched a province-wide campaign called “Post-Secondary Education is the Answer” as an effort to mobilize public support against potential cutbacks.
“A lot of the institutions are already struggling with the existing realities here in Alberta,” said Moore-Kilgannon during a local launch in the Markin Hall atrium at the University of Lethbridge on Thursday.
Moore-Kilgannon presented results of a telephone survey, conducted by Environics, about Albertans’ views on the importance of investment in post-secondary education.
The questions related to how education can help in areas such as economic diversification, shortages of skilled labour, reductions in poverty and crime, as well as aid with solutions to issues like health care and the environment.
“It showed that 67 per cent of Albertans, even though we’re in an economic downturn, say we should actually be investing more in post-secondary education instead of cutting,” said Moore-Kilgannon.
“So what we’re trying to do with this campaign is make sure that Albertans understand how cuts to post-secondary education are going to impact, not only the students and the faculty and the people that work within the institutions, but more broadly on our society.”
Gerri Joosse, president of the Lethbridge College Faculty Association, said it’s hard for institutions to make long-term plans when there is constant change and uncertainty in finance models.
“A five to 10 per cent cut in funding would put the college into a very unstable position,” she said.
“We would be looking at an inability to furnish education for the increasing number of students who need education because the marketplace require higher levels of education. It’s quite a significant situation that we’re in.”
Dave Kaminski, president of the U of L Faculty Association, said the five per cent cut from 2013 is still having effects. Anything further would lead to more problems, as the university is already struggling to keep pace with inflation.
“Even with a zero per cent, no cut at all, we are still losing ground,” he said. “Inflation is eating into our budgets just by doing nothing in addition. We’ve had positions that have been left vacant; we’ve had retirees that haven’t been replaced; we’ve had programs placed in jeopardy.”
“The uncertainty is there for our staff,” added Jake Cameron, chair of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Local 53 at the U of L.
“I’ve had lots of questions ‘are we going to have a job after this budget falls out? Are there going to be layoffs?’ Questions I can’t answer.”
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