Two letters from University of Alberta professors have appeared in today’s Journal. Together they offer current and historic perspective on the devastating cuts that the Government of Alberta has delivered to postsecondary education with its 7 March 2013 budget. How dare this Government call itself “fiscally responsible” when it is doling out devastation worse than what Alberta experienced in the Great Depression! Here are the texts of Professor Reimer’s and Macleod’s letters in full.
Gutting our universities
Alberta universities have never fully recovered from Klein-era rollbacks. And for the last several years, the “increase” in the budget has been zero per cent, significantly below the rate of inflation, year after year, while the government also has pressured institutions to increase enrolments.
Year after year there have been cuts and more cuts. There is no fat to trim; the cutting now is meat and bone.
This government has decided to gut the university system, which Alberta taxpayers bought and paid for.
At a time when we most need to diversify our economy, and when the best way to do that is with a well-educated population, why does the government want to reduce our universities to insignificance?
What is the government’s agenda? Does it want to force Albertans to leave the province for a university education?
The university system will not survive the government’s continued mismanagement of this most precious and essential resource.
Stephen Reimer, Edmonton
A history of cuts
Without going into the often arcane details of university financing, two things stand out about the cut in post-secondary funding announced in the March 7 budget.
First, you have to go back to 1972 to find the last decrease of this magnitude (6.8 per cent this year, just over eight per cent then).
The only other year in the 105-year history of higher education in Alberta to see a larger cut was 1934, during the Great Depression.
It is interesting to compare the circumstances of those years with what we have now.
In 1934, unemployment in Alberta was more than 30 per cent, farmers were leaving the land to avoid starvation and the government was getting ready to default on its bond payments.
In 1972, crude oil was selling for $7 a barrel, conventional oil supplies seemed to be running out and the oilsands plants had yet to turn a profit. The baby boom generation had passed through their post-secondary years and the demand for spaces at universities and colleges across the province was falling.
Rod Macleod, professor emeritus, University of Alberta