Alberta students are angry, but are they worse off?

Universities face austere budgets from coast to coast


Albertan students marching against cuts (Ravanne Lawday)

Last year, Quebec’s students were so angry when their government raised tuition that the ensuing protests helped topple that government.

This year, after a cut of 7.3 per cent in operating funding to universities and colleges, Alberta students are the ones marching against cuts.

After Ontario’s budget was tabled last week with a proposed increase in operating funding for post-secondary schools of roughly two per cent (slightly more than inflation), it’s safe to say no province’s universities have escaped austerity.

A closer look shows that, despite the anger, Alberta students may be better off than most.

Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Quebec are all cutting operating funding. It will be flat in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland will offer small increases that will mostly be eaten up by higher-than-average inflation in those provinces.

When compared to their peers, Albertan students may not be doing as badly as they think because their universities were more generously funded to begin with. Alberta has traditionally paid out the highest share of university revenues among Canadian provinces (71.6 per cent), followed by Newfoundland and Labrador (69.4) and Saskatchewan (68.3). Ontario (54.3) and Nova Scotia (48.9) have provided the lowest share. In other words, there was probably more for Alberta to cut.

The other main source of revenue is tuition. With tuition frozen in Alberta next year around the Canadian average, its universities will continue to be well-funded. So while Albertan students seem the most outraged at 2013’s austere budgets, they may not be any worse off—relatively speaking.


Alberta students are angry, but are they worse off?

  1. Really, Josh? Your argument comes down to, “All the public universities are being starved by austerity, so Alberta students have no particular right to be outraged”?? This was a totally unnecessary cut to postsecondary education, and disproportionately deep in comparison to any other government activity. Also, this cut came on the heels of several years of insufficient funding that required lay-offs, hiring freezes, and substantial jumps in minimum averages for entering students. The fact that students are sufficiently engaged to see how this is going to impact their education is worthy of commendation, not your dismissive scorn.

    Objectively, this government has mismanaged its finances at a time when the overall economic situation in Alberta is quite good. Why is it running a deficit? Because it persists in relying on royalty revenues at criminally low rates rates imposed on a highly volatile commodity for a disproportionate portion of its budget. This in a province with no sales tax and a flat income tax.

    Finally, I do not understand your comment about tuition. Yes, the province has frozen tuition for 2013-14. How does that translate into “its universities continue to be well-funded”?? Please elaborate your thinking.

  2. This story, and a similar one elsewhere, fails to take into account the impact of tuition differences across provinces.

    TotalProvinceFunding/FTE student TotalTuitionandFeesFees/FTE Student
    University of Toronto
    University of British Columbia
    University of Saskatchewan

  3. This story and a similar one floating around, fails to take into account the total context of university funding. The point that there was more to cut may be correct, but the impact of that cut and the rhetoric that Alberta universities are so much better funded than other provinces needs to take tuition and fees into account. All data is per full time equivalent student
    Provincial funding tuition and fees
    UofA: $15,971 $6,976
    UofT 9,110 11,533
    UBC $13,053 8,212
    UofSask $16,134 5,791

    the totals tell a different story.