As promised, the provincial Conservative government officially announced their first balanced budget two weeks ago. Although there were few surprises, student leaders and university administrators differ on what the budget means to University of Calgary students.
The province will absorb a $42 million federal cut in transfer payments and will spend an extra $52 million, to be allocated towards new equipment and research at post-secondary institutions. However, they will follow through on the three per cent cut to operating grants, which translates into $4.5 million for the U of C.
Mike McAdams, university Assistant to the Vice-President of Finance, said the budget is an indication that funding to post-secondary education is becoming a priority for the provincial government.
"The budget is a definitive indication of a pendulum swing," he said. "We've known about the three per cent cut for three years now... Although we would have preferred it not to go through, planning has included it, so nothing changes."
Kate Kimberley, Students' Union president, explains that by going ahead with the three per cent cut that student leaders lobbied against, the provincial government sent a clear message to post-secondary students in Alberta that the changes in post-secondary funding are here to stay--regardless of whether the budget is balanced or not.
The SU is disappointed that money already allocated to post-secondary institutions accounts for most of the "extra" $52 million. A leftover $47 million from the Access Fund, created in 1994, was included in the sum. Kimberley said she finds this "highly misleading" for students.
"Only $5 million is actually new money," she said.
McAdams, who was more optimistic about the blending of the Access Fund, said that "rolling the Access Fund into the budget is better than eliminating the funds altogether."
Both Kimberley and McAdams were pleased that the provincial government were able to absorb federal cuts as announced in November. Kimberley noted that Alberta is better off than several other provinces in this respect.
Student leaders are set to meet with Ralph Klein a second time on March 12 to discuss the budget. At that time, Kimberley said she hopes to get an indication of what the long-term goals of the provincial government are in terms of post-secondary education.
"The fact that Alberta has the flexibility to absorb federal cuts (because of the balanced budget) means the government can be more generous in areas that require more funding," said Kimberley.