From the President’s Desk: Provincial Budget Update

This afternoon, the Government of Alberta tabled its 2019 budget. As I mentioned in my post on The Quad earlier today, we will not know…

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This afternoon, the Government of Alberta tabled its 2019 budget. As I mentioned in my post on The Quad earlier today, we will not know the full impact of the budget on the University of Alberta until we have received our formal budget letter.

However, from my conversations with the Ministry of Advanced Education today, I can share the following preliminary details regarding the university’s budget:

  • There will be a $44M (6.9%) cut to the U of A’s Campus Alberta grant in this 2019-20 fiscal year.
  • Our Infrastructure Maintenance Program (IMP) funding, which was $35M last year, has been reduced to zero on a one-time basis this year.

Over the longer term, today’s budget also signals a major shift in government policy around the funding of post-secondary education, as recommended by the MacKinnon Report. More information about these changes will be rolled out in the coming months for implementation in 2020-21. Also starting next year, the current tuition freeze will be lifted and institutions will be allowed to increase tuition on average by 7% each year for three years.

Over the coming days and weeks, we will be in discussion with ministry officials to determine specific details around the planned reductions, and future enrolment targets. Only when we have this information will we have the full implication of today’s announcements.

Historically, Alberta’s post-secondary institutions have been strongly supported and the U of A has stewarded this public investment well, delivering on our core mission of providing education and research on par with the best in the world. We have consistently met government-set enrolment targets, and we have expanded our program offerings in areas of high demand. Our retention and completion rates are the highest in the province. Our graduates are highly skilled and in demand. Recent global employability rankings place the U of A first in Alberta and second in Canada. We attract more than $500 million dollars in external research funding to Alberta annually, and over the last four years, we have experienced record levels of philanthropic support.

We must continue to deliver on our core mission to these high standards, even as the government shifts its funding priorities. The 6.9% cut to our Campus Alberta grant for this year, in addition to the loss of IMP funding, is significant. Meeting the challenge of this budget cut and changes anticipated for the following years will not be easy, and we will need to make tough decisions.

In the longer term, we will need to make significant, structural changes. We must consider all options, but also take time and not respond reflexively. The government has indicated that we will have some levers for generating new revenue, including tuition increases. We cannot, however, expect our students and their families to shoulder this burden alone. We must look to how our academic and administrative functions can evolve to enhance our core mission as the province moves towards a different revenue mix for post-secondary education in the province.

The provincial government also has a critical role to play. We know that Alberta’s post-secondary institutions are vital to the economic, social, and cultural prosperity of the province. Our graduates provide the talent and skills--and our research seeds the future innovation and economic diversification--that Alberta needs to build its economy. Alberta has the youngest population in Canada and it is growing. Alberta’s post-secondary system needs to significantly increase the number of student spaces over the next five years if the province is to meet the demands of current and upcoming demographic growth. Government investment in capacity and direction on how projected growth in demand will be managed is necessary to ensure that Albertans have access to the education they need here in their own province.

We have much to consider. I will be meeting with deans, chairs and vice-presidents in the coming days to continue the work already in progress. Your input and advice is also critical. Please join Provost Steven Dew, Vice-President (Finance and Administration) Gitta Kulczycki and me at noon on Wednesday, October 30 in Council Chambers (RSVP here) to learn more about the impact of today’s budget and the tools we have in our toolkit to address the challenge.

David H. Turpin
President and Vice-chancellor