MLAs speak out about PSE discrepancies

Two Conservative MLAs from Calgary are fueling the fire between the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary with claims that the provincial government’s funding scales are tipped in favour of the northern institute.

Calgary-Nose Hill MLA Neil Brown has been examining the funding inequality between the two universities for over two years and currently sits on the Alberta Public Accounts Committee. The committee’s members are given the opportunity to question deputy ministers about each department’s account records. After recently questioning the Advanced Education deputy minister, Brown concluded that in the past three years, the U of C received $364 million less than the U of A in provincial capital project funding. Brown also found that while the U of A receives $11,374 per full-time student in operating funds, the U of C receives only $10,105.

“There may be some inherent tendency [for bureaucrats] to favour the home university,” he said.

Calgary-Bow MLA Alana DeLong also believes favoritism within the Department of Advanced Education has created an unbalance in funding between the two universities.

“Essentially you’ve got the department people here [in Edmonton] so they’ve naturally got a bias,” she said. “They see their university as the only university. They really do care more about the U of A.”

DeLong explained that according to a provincial funding formula that calculates how much a university’s per-student operating grants should be, the U of C is underfunded.

“The last time I did these calculations, it turned out that the funding would be the same [for both the U of C and the U of A],” she said.

Although the funding inequality between the U of A and U of C is evident, Advanced Education minister Doug Horner denied that a bias within Edmonton exists.

“They are not looking at the whole picture here,” he said. “We base [funding] on need, and all universities in Alberta need funding.”

Horner explained that the numbers reported for the operating grants are only averages and the amount of money designated for students changes from faculty to faculty. Therefore, the difference between the two universities is a result of the number of students enrolled in different faculties.

“You can’t just take the averages,” said Horner. “It’s not on a one to one basis. We’re looking at it from a ‘campus Alberta’ approach.”

Brown disagreed.

“That difference has diminished,” he said, noting the U of C now accepts the same number of medical students as the U of A. “You can’t explain [the inequality] in terms of faculties.”

Horner also noted the U of A is the only institution for students in Northern Alberta, whereas students from the south have the choice between attending the U of C or the University of Lethbridge.

“That’s not to say I don’t think we need more students in Calgary,” added Horner. “I think we do.”

While U of C vice-president external Roman Cooney doesn’t think there is a bias within the government, he did acknowledge that there is a funding inequality.

“There is a gap in both the capital and operating [budgets],” said Cooney. “But rather than getting bogged down with those details, we need to focus on increasing access [to post-secondary education] across the board.”

In addition to equalizing provincial funding between the two institutions, Brown also noted improved access to PSE should be a priority for the government.

“We need to increase access,” he said. “Calgary is the institution with the greatest access problem in the province. We have to create more spaces.”

The provincial government currently has $1.6 billion to allocate to PSE over the next three years. However, there are already a number of capital projects throughout the province which are waiting for provincial funding, including the U of C’s Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy.

“We really do need to look at our overall prospective,” said Horner. “What is the regional need and how do we fold that into the Alberta need?”

Cooney noted that pressuring the government for the ISEEE funding is currently the university’s top priority.

“The province knows this is critical to us,” said Cooney. “We will hopefully know in the next few weeks if that funding will be secured for the next year.”

Although Horner would not provide a deadline, he hinted the university will receive the funding in the near future.

“I’m working on the ISEEE project and we’ve done a lot of work with the U of C executive team,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we will be able to move that proposal forward.”

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