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Student and staff associations call on province to reject U of A budget

The protest movement against the University of Alberta’s budget, which includes fee increases to residents and international students, is asking the Minister of Advanced education to not approve the institution’s budget for next year.

The call to reject the university budget comes from the four associations representing various groups in the community, including the Students’ Union, the Graduate Students’ Association, the Association of Academic Staff at the University of Alberta and the Non-Academic Staff Association. Following the protest last Friday where students and staff held a demonstration outside the South Academic Building, the groups say they feel ignored by the university administration, and are asking the government to send the university’s budget back to the Board of Governors for revisions.

Protesters are opposed to the Board of Governors’ decision to pass a 3.14 per cent increase to international students tuition, a four percent increase to residence rent, a costlier all-you-can-eat meal plan for Lister, as well as a four percent budget cut across all faculties.

Latest statement urges Minister Schmidt to take action

Students’ Union president Marina Banister, one of the signatories of the statement released earlier today, said Marlin Schmidt, the Minister of Advanced Education, has been receptive to the concerns of the protest movement, and she hopes “(Schmidt’s) words will be backed up with action.”

“The (university’s) senior administration and the Board of Governors continue to ignore the concerns those stakeholder groups have,” she said. “Ultimately, the government of Alberta has not yet accepted the budget that has been proposed by the Board of Governors, and we believe it’s time for the Government of Alberta to step in and send the budget back to the Board of Governors.”

Schmidt has made a number of critical comments in regards to the university’s budget. On March 19, Schmidt said university president David Turpin was “lining his own pockets while he’s cutting money being spent on classrooms and students.” Schmidt further criticized the university’s decision to cut its budget following a demonstration on March 28 where protestors followed David Turpin to his office and knocked at his door for over an hour.

Phair: It is unconscionable that (Minister Schmidt) would single out the president

In return, Board of Governors Chair Michael Phair is critical of the minister for undermining the authority of the members of the board.

“As a board chair, I am very concerned about the comments that have come from the minister,” he said. “I think that it’s unconscionable that he would single out the president and talk about lining his pockets, which to me gets close to sounding like something criminal, and to think that as a board we’d allow that to happen is very undermining.”

Phair also said the university still doesn’t know how much it will get from the $17 million in backfill funding, which will be allocated across all the post-secondary institutions in the province. He said a decision to re-examine the university’s budget could happen afterwards, but the money could not be used towards international students or residence services.

As for the large number of associations who have come together to protest the university budget, which Banister said was “historic,” Phair said it’s natural for other parts of the university community to have their own thoughts on the matter.

“There are quite a number of significant groups that make up the university that all have opinions, and that’s all valuable to have those opinions,” he said.

While Phair said the university’s budget is the board’s prerogative, Larsen said that wasn’t entirely the case.

“It wouldn’t be unprecedented,” Larsen said. “For the U of A to claim that it’s a sanctuary where they can decide their own inflation numbers and make their own cuts without any revision is not necessarily true. The ministry and government have the prerogative to say no you have to revisit these numbers.”

Campus groups have been protesting university budget since March

The protests against the university’s budget began in March. It was the same week the Board of Governors passed a 3.14 per cent increase to international students tuition, a four percent increase to residence rent, a costlier all-you-can-eat meal plan for Lister, as well as a four percent budget cut across all faculties.

Protestors say the university should reverse those decisions following the provincial budget announcement on March 22 where the university learned it’s getting more money than it expected, including $17 million dollars in backfill funding across all post-secondary institutions in the province to make up from the revenue lost from extended tuition freeze. With the increased funding, protestors say the university’s budget was based on incorrect information and should be revised.

The latest statement also comes with support from the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS), which represents students from five post-secondary institutions in the province. The organization says the budget cuts at the University of Alberta should be stopped so that other institutions don’t follow their example.

“Everywhere follows the U of A example,” said Reed Larsen, Students’ Union vice-president (external) and CAUS chair. “So we are going to be the major stakeholder in these cuts, then other institutions will follow what happens here.”

Nathan Fung

Nathan Fung is a sixth-year political science student and The Gateway's news editor for the 2018-19 year. He can usually be found in the Gateway office, turning coffee into copy.

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