On Monday, November 18, around noon, employees at the Alberta Legislature may have been surprised when they looked out of their office windows to find a crowd of angry students at their door. MacEwan University and University of Alberta students were gathered in protest of the United Conservative Party’s (UCP) cut to post-secondary institutional funding. The Students’ Association of MacEwan University and University of Alberta Students’ Union were responsible for organizing the protest.
The UCP cut 7.9% from MacEwan’s budget, totalling $17 million, and has cancelled the tuition freeze as of Jan. 2020. This will allow tuition to be raised up to 7% a year, for four years. This budget will likely affect every student in Alberta, whether it be through taxes, interest rates, or tuition increases. MacEwan was one of the hardest hit institutions in Alberta.
“With these tuition increases…it’s going to really impact if I can even continue my degree,” said MacEwan University student Celina Vipond. “If you’re working and taking out student loans but it’s still not enough, what are you supposed to do?” Vipond believes that other financially vulnerable students are experiencing similar qualms. These cuts are likely to most affect those who are least equipped to deal with them. “For people that don’t have affluent family in their life, this tuition hike is the difference between finishing their degree or not.”
The tuition tax credit will be eliminated, and interest on student loans is increasing to prime-plus-one percent. Many students have been left in anxious stasis, awaiting to hear how the cuts are going to affect them personally. So far, MacEwan administration has provided no concrete plan on reconciling the cuts in the university’s budget.
The Students’ Association of MacEwan University (SAMU) president, Ryley Osadchuk, said that it is important for student government to stand up against these cuts, by continuing to speak out in protest of the UCP’s plan. “We advocate for students. [SAMU] has to make sure that education is affordable, and that tuition is predictable.” So Osadchuk approved the organization of the Alberta Budget Demonstration, which was initially proposed by SAMU Vice-President External, Cole Baker.
Both Vipond and Osadchuk spoke about the cancellation of the Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP). STEP was an initiative whereby the government subsidized part of the wages paid to a student employed by an Albertan business. This incentivized hiring. “I have a lot friends that relied on STEP to get experience in their field,” said Vipond. “I feel like a lot of our opportunities that can help us progress are being cut, after putting years and so much money into school.”
Reduction of the administration’s compensation may help ease the burden on students. In 2018, the top 10 highest earners at MacEwan made a combined sum of almost $3 million. None of them were teaching faculty, but rather all were administration members. Osadchuk confirmed that “salary and benefits are 65% of MacEwan’s spending,” which should make it the primary focus during MacEwan’s drastic slimming. “We are really pushing for the administration to make sure that [administration] costs are being looked at first and foremost, and then as a last resort taking it out on the students,” Osadchuk said.
Even MacEwan faculty is holding their breath as they wait to hear how the cuts will affect them. MacEwan journalism professor Neill Fitzpatrick spoke about being concerned with the quality of education going down as class sizes increase and resources decrease. “What we know is that MacEwan is facing the largest cut of all the universities in Alberta. I think that no matter which way they go, there is going to be some pain.” Fitzpatrick said. “It isn’t about wanting to do more with less, we just want to keep doing what we are currently doing with less.”
The release of the UCP budget has sparked an intense discordance of voices within the Alberta Legislature and MacEwan. Despite the unease and anger experienced by many at MacEwan, staff and students alike, there not much to be done now except speak out, a sentiment echoed by Celina Vipond: “[protesting] is the only way to get our voices heard about how these cuts are going to negatively affect us. I wish there was more we could do about, but this seems to be the only thing possible right now.”