By Rob South
Last week, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein announced the province will give post-secondary institutions an infrastructure grant totaling $200 million. Many regarded the move as a positive step to improving the physical condition of campuses across Alberta. However, the distribution of the grant money perplexed many, particularly student leaders at the University of Calgary, which did not receive one cent of funding.
"It seems unfortunate that the university did not get any money when we are at the same capacity level as Mount Royal College," said U of C Students’ Union President Toby White. "MRC got $94 million, the University of Alberta got $21 million and the U of C got nothing."
According to Ministry of Learning Spokesman Randy Kilburn, there was no set criteria for the distribution of the funds and all allocation decisions were made by the Treasury Board.
"The [funds] were allocated to best address the needs of the system," said Kilburn. "The most serious growth pressures were at the college level."
Various colleges and technical institutes across the province received $129 million of the $150 million in funding which has already been allocated to specific institutions. U of C Executive Director of External Relations Stu Reid does not believe the university was treated unfairly in the funding announcements.
"In this round [of funding announcements] we weren’t specifically identified; a number of institutions were, a number of institutions weren’t," said Reid. "To put it in context, we got money for the Informations Communications Technology expansion a year and a half ago, when other institutions weren’t getting things. So in the context of things over time, I am assuming it is all going to balance out."
According to Kilburn, the remaining $50 million in infrastructure funding will be announced in January 2001.
White believes there is an urgent need at the U of C to create new teaching space.
"We are currently at 120 per cent of our physical capacity," said White. "There is a very high need for academic space and for the same reasons MRC received money."
Liberal Education Critic Don Massey agrees the infrastructure needs of many schools across the province are being ignored. Massey referred to the 1997 General Facility Evaluation Report commissioned by Alberta Advanced Education and Career Development, which listed the total need for repairs and maintenance of existing post-secondary buildings at more than $350 million.
"The current doling out of one-time grant funds does not begin to address keeping these institutions in good repair for the long-term," said Massey. "One-time grant funding to post-secondary institutions is just another Klein government election ploy."
Both White and Massey are perplexed by the timing of the announcement because the funding review committee established by Learning Minister Lyle Oberg in March has not completed its work.
"It is strange for [the government] to be releasing large amounts of unbudgeted money without a plan," said White.
Kilburn believes the funding committee’s report will be ready before January and will be used in determining the remaining $50 million of funding allocations.