In its budget passed on March 16, the University of Alberta conservatively estimated they would not receive any increased funding from the provincial government. In reality, their funding has been raised by two per cent.
While developing their budget, the U of A anticipated no increases in funding from the provincial government for the next three years. They also factored in the domestic tuition freeze with no funding to make up the amount lost to inflation, despite the government announcing there would be backfill funding back in November. These factors were partly used to justify the four per cent across the board cut to the university’s budget.
However, today the provincial government announced in their budget that the Campus Alberta Grant will increase by two per cent, which is equivalent to inflation, and they included $17 million in funding to make up for the tuition freeze.
Following the announcement, U of A’s Board of Governors Chair Michael Phair said he was surprised by the two per cent increase.
“I’m delighted. There are a number of things (in the budget) that are very advantageous for the university,” he said. “The university’s budget that we just passed was based on zero, so that’s great.”
Students’ Union vice-president (operations & finance) Robyn Paches called the funding good news, but was critical of the worst-case scenario assumptions made by the university when it approved the various fee raises and budget cuts.
“The University of Alberta’s assumptions in their budget were grossly wrong,” he said. “Their assumptions were grossly conservative at zero per cent increase across the bat, those are now wrong. That means the fees that we recently saw with international tuition… are now unneeded. So that will be interesting to see where we go from here.”
As for why the university was so conservative with their budget estimates, Phair said the government had been hinting that things would go a different way.
“Our thoughts were zero was a good sign, because other (universities) would’ve ended up with something less,” he said. “Rather than base it off two per cent and not get it and then have struggle, a better way to go this year was to do the zero and now we get more money than we expected, which is a good sign. So everyone feels happy.”
Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt said he understands that the university planned for the worst, but said that the government couldn’t leak their own budget in advance.
“We don’t want to put any institutions in a position where they’re planning for a certain amount of money and we surprise them with less than what they were expecting,” he said
While $17 million has been set aside for backfill funding, how that money will be allocated between all the post-secondary institutions in the province has yet to be decided.
As for what happens next, Phair said the Board of Governors will discuss how to use those extra funds in their next meeting, but noted that those funds cannot go towards offsetting costs for international students, or residence services. However, he said it could resolve some of the other cuts planned by the university.
Despite that, Paches said the Students’ Union plans on trying to get the university to reexamine the fee increases as he says they’re no longer necessary.
“With enough student backing, anything is possible,” he said.