Response to the provincial budget and cuts to UAlberta

The provincial government yesterday released its 2021 Budget. While the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic meant less of an austerity budget than many had feared, the Kenney government has doubled down on its deep and unsustainable cuts to post-secondary education. While more details will be available in the coming days and weeks, we wanted to share NASA's initial reaction to the budget with you.

The coming year will see post-secondary education lose another $135 million in provincial government spending on post-secondary operations, with an additional $113 million reduction in 2022-23. This is on top of the $182 million cuts already implemented last year. (Information about expenditures for Advanced Education can be found on page 104 of the budget's fiscal plan.)

As devastating as these cuts are, what is worse for NASA members is the reality that the University of Alberta has once again been disproportionately targeted for cuts by this government. As President Flanagan wrote in his update this morning:

In Budget 2021, the University of Alberta’s provincial grant has been decreased by a further 11 percent, or $60.1M, almost one-half of the total $126M cut to the post-secondary sector in this year’s budget. We had been anticipating a cut of 10 percent. This 11 percent reduction, combined with cuts in 2020-21, totals a $170M reduction in our provincial funding over the last two and a half years. … 25 percent of Alberta’s post-secondary students attend the University of Alberta, but the province is requiring us to bear nearly 50 percent of the reduction in provincial funding. This disproportionate cut is especially disappointing, considering the extraordinary efforts the university has undertaken to reduce our expenditures.

For comparison, we've heard that the University of Calgary received a 6% cut, Athabasca University a 1.1% cut, Mount Royal University a 2.5% cut, and the University of Lethbridge a 5.8% cut.

To add insult to injury, the budget also recommitted to moving forward with implementing performance-based funding (PBF) in 2021-22. This means that in the coming years, PSE funding will be tied to measures set by the provincial government, many of which are out of the control of the institutions which will be impacted. It’s important to note that the only possible impact of PBF is a further decrease in funding unless an institution perfectly meets all of the government’s measures, and up to 40% of funding could be at risk once the PBF model is fully implemented.

You are all well aware of the devastating impact that PSE cuts have already had on the University of Alberta. The reality is that the vast majority of the cuts to date have been absorbed by support staff, with more than 1,100 jobs already slated to be lost—a number which will almost certainly increase as a result of yesterday’s budget. The university simply cannot expect support staff to continue to absorb additional reductions to meet the targets of a discriminatory and unworkable budget.

NASA has long been critical of university leadership's unwillingness to raise the alarm with Albertans about the devastating impacts the provincial cuts are having on the province’s flagship institution. In a survey last year, 76% of NASA members indicated that they thought the university should be more vocal in challenging the province's cuts to PSE. Yesterday’s budget reinforces for NASA that the university's strategy of keeping its head down in the hopes of avoiding additional funding reductions and treating these devastating cuts as a "strategic opportunity for transformation" has been a failure. It is long past time for President Flanagan, Board of Governors Chair Chisholm, and other university leaders to push back in a public and vocal way about the ongoing attacks on the University of Alberta and to mobilize alumni and other concerned Albertans to defend the university from these ongoing cuts.

NASA will continue to do all we can to advocate for support staff at the university and to minimize the impacts of the cuts on the people who make the university work, as well as to strongly encourage university leadership to finally publicly challenge the provincial government’s attack on post-secondary. We will also continue to make the case with Albertans about the critical role that post-secondary education must play in Alberta’s recovery from COVID-19 and its transition to the economy of tomorrow.

We'll be keeping NASA members up to date as we learn more, and will be letting you know how to make sure your voice is heard.

In solidarity,

- The NASA Executive Board