For 10 years, the Alberta government has followed a policy of less government is better government. From privatizing liquor stores to contracting out health care services, the province has paid lip service to this idea of non-obtrusive government. In reality, they have more power now than ever before–they’re just more covert about it.
The government accomplishes this in an extra-legal fashion. Using its spending power, it forces its agenda upon anyone who desires a cash influx. Take university funding: more and more government dollars are given in the form of funding envelopes and Key Performance Indicators; both have strings attached and incredibly specific destinations for money. While the university’s operating grant remains virtually stagnant, funding envelopes abound. Last February, for example, the university received $20 million to expand the Department Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, as well as create a Department of Software Design, doubling the size of the department. It was great we received this money, but what was the motivation? That’s easy, industry demands this kind of spending, and so the government "gave" the funding envelope to the U of C. As Minister of Learning Lyle Oberg said in a recent interview, "If you as an employer need underwater welding, we’ll set up a program for you."
The government remains totally opposed to increasing base level university funding, however, because this is how they retain power. Meanwhile, regular students suffer. By giving these one-time grants, they not only dictate where the money is spent, but they leave the university strapped for cash. Because the university can’t count on one-shot grants when budgeting, they never include them as part of the operating budget, and so the university turns to tuition as a source of revenue. This establishes a system where the university begs for money and becomes grateful for any small pittance they receive. And the government still looks great in the eyes of the public, who only read about the trickle of university grants given on a strict schedule (to maximize this good press), rather than the serious lack of base-level funding. As a result, if the university spoke out against these grants, the public would throw a fit.
The latest installment of a $6 million infrastructure grant is just another example of fools gold; sure, it looks good, but in reality, it’s worthless. The government’s refusal to simply add this to the basic funding keeps the university, and as a result students, under its thumb. The government needs to practice what it preaches–stay out of our lives. Let those who have an intimate knowledge of the university decide where the money should go.
New funding is great, but let’s start talking about old funding.