On Campus

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.