By Letter to the Editor on November 2, 2019.
The UCP government’s Budget 2019 downgrades health and educational services and seeks to impose pay cuts for workers in these fields.
The budget is being sold to Albertans as necessary for controlling spending. However, there will be far-reaching and negative ramifications. From the perspective of those who work in post-secondary education, the government is taking a step backwards. The oil and gas sector continues to shrink and it is becoming clear to economists that this slowdown is the new normal. Rather than deny this reality, Alberta should encourage the creation of jobs in sectors that are forward facing.
The economy of the future requires highly trained and educated Albertans and innovative discoveries in the natural sciences, engineering, social sciences, humanities and the arts. A central role has to be played by teachers and researchers in the post-secondary sector. We should be investing in the future, increasing capacity in our universities and colleges. Instead, this budget cuts funding for research and innovation. These cuts come at a time when our academic staff compensation has been reduced through multiple years of salary freezes and rollbacks.
The government’s intention is that the cost of these cuts will be partly borne by reduced compensation for university staff and by shifting more costs to our children and grandchildren through increased tuition, student loan interest, and a removal of tuition tax credits. The average academic salary at the University of Lethbridge is more than $10,000 less than our comparator universities in the rest of Canada, refuting the idea that we are over-paid. Post-secondary education is an easy target as our contributions to research, education and the economy are borne out of years of work, not in short-term budget cycles. The inevitable result of these cuts will be the loss of the most mobile, productive and effective teachers, scientists and researchers to other regions.
This budget cheats young Albertans out of much-needed educational and training opportunities. It cheats future generations out of the fruits of education and innovation for a vibrant, future-facing economy. The contrast could not be more stark – we can strive for a rich and thriving future, based upon investments in the public good and innovation – or, we can invest good money now to chase industries of the past. This shortsighted budget is harmful to our children, our future economy and to Albertans.
President, University of Lethbridge Faculty Association