Province unveils budget

Clouds of uncertainty still surround post-secondary funding coming from the 2000/01 Alberta provincial budget, but opposition and student leaders are clear on one thing: it’s not enough.

The budget, announced Thurs., Feb. 24, sees $1.1 billion go to post-secondary education, which, according to the province, represents a nine per cent increase from last year. Of the $1.1 billion, $858 million will go to base operating costs of the 26 publicly-funded post-secondary institutions in Alberta.

The U of C is still calculating exactly how much money it will get.

"I think it will take quite a long time for us to unravel that," said U of C Vice-president Finance and Services Dr. Keith Winter. "I definitely am not interested in speculating about it. Often, it’s well into the spring before we know the answers to some of these things."

Not everyone believes the budget is good news for advanced education.

"I think that it has to be a disappointment for both the institutions and for students," said Liberal Education critic Dr. Don Massey. "What we had hoped for was a freeze on tuition, and the institutions given the money the freeze would have cost them."

U of C Students’ Union President Rob South cautions against believing this is a big spending increase for post-secondary education.

"Funding to post-secondary institutions is not going up nine per cent," he said, adding that the discrepancy comes from how the province calculated last year’s funding compared to that of this year. "They only compare last year’s base funding to this year’s base funding plus access [grants], plus envelopes [targeted funding], plus Key Performance Indicators."

South estimates the actual increase to be less than two per cent.

Student assistance was the primary focus, receiving a total of $125 million. The government increased students loan limits by $300 to $10,400 a year with the loan remission program, in which the government pays part of a student loan upon graduation, increasing by $5 million to $39 million. The province will also fund a new scholarship program to give 3,000 students $1,000 each.

"It will be $3 million for second-year students," said Alberta Learning Spokesperson Ed Greenberg. "We’re still working out the final details of the scholarship. By mid-March we’ll have the details all ironed out."

While both Massey and South acknowledge that the scholarship is a good step, they feel it’s not enough.

"We’d like the government to extend the program in the future to apply to third- and fourth-year students as well," said South.

South added that the government should address tuition costs instead of student debt.

"They have to spend more money on debt remission because of the problem of tuition," said South. "If they tackle tuition, they wouldn’t have debt rising so much."

Greenberg, however, says the government is confident the budget addresses students’ needs.

"[Learning Minister Lyle] Oberg will continue to work with student representatives and institutions as we continue on," he said, "but we feel that this budget responds to the concerns raised by students."

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