Like all of you, we are in shock at the magnitude of the cuts being faced by the University of Alberta as a result of Budget 2020, tabled last Thursday by the UCP government.
The provincial government's budget will result in job losses across many sectors and this will impact more than the individuals who will no longer be able to support their families and pay their mortgages. Like nurses, doctors, teachers, and other public sector workers, NASA members play a vital role in the success of this province. The University of Alberta cannot function without the work performed by NASA members, and the University of Alberta plays a vital role in the economy and future of our province.
As President Turpin revealed on Friday, an 11% cut to the U of A’s share of the Campus Alberta Grant, combined with the 6.9% cut from just four months ago means the university is being asked to deal with cuts of 17.9% over an 18-month period. Last October’s budget also reduced the U of A’s Infrastructure Maintenance Program (IMP) funding from $35 million last year to zero on a one-time basis.
In a meeting with President Turpin earlier today, I emphasized to him the vital role that NASA members play in enabling the teaching and research work of the university. I also reiterated that there are high stress levels across the campuses due to both the uncertainty about who will be hit by job cuts and of resultant workloads becoming unsustainable. Reductions in staff result in reductions of the services relied on by students and faculty, and this takes an emotional toll on remaining staff members.
Until now, the university has largely been using attrition, hiring restraint, and isolated layoffs in its cost-cutting efforts. Over the past month, NASA has been seeing clusters of layoffs happening as the university began restructuring efforts that reduced or eliminated units. Budget 2020 cuts provincial funding to the University of Alberta far beyond what was anticipated, and there is no doubt that the number of jobs losses will increase.
While NASA appreciates President Turpin’s message, we respectfully disagree with his statement that the U of A will be able to “maintain our responsibility to our students and to Albertans to deliver world-class teaching, research, and innovation.”
The University of Alberta is unquestionably a world-class institution, and as President Turpin wrote in his message, meets provincial enrolment targets, has Alberta’s highest retention and completion rates, and can be proud of global employability rankings that place the U of A first in Alberta and second in Canada.
However, we believe that it is impossible to remove almost one out of every five funding dollars an institution receives from the government and not expect there to be a significant reduction in the quality of the teaching and research the university is able to maintain. If the U of A is forced to accept such deep cuts—especially in such a short timeframe—combined with the implementation of a performance-based funding model that can only result in further reductions in funding, the world-class stature of our institution is in real jeopardy.
It is time for the university’s leadership to speak out strongly and publicly against the direction the provincial government is taking on post-secondary education in Alberta, and about the impact these reckless cuts will have on the sector and the province.
For many years government funding and support for post-secondary was based on the belief that providing a world-class education in Alberta—for our best and brightest Alberta students and talented international students—was valuable to the province. The current provincial government is now sending the message that they do not value the economic and social benefits that flow from having such a world-class institution in the province.
Now is the time for those of us in the University of Alberta community who care about maintaining its world-class standing—university leadership, staff, faculty, students, and alumni—to speak out and stand up for this critical provincial institution.
It’s worth pointing out that the cuts to the U of A in both Budget 2019 and Budget 2020 were disproportionately high compared to the average for the sector. In October, the U of A’s Campus Alberta Grant was reduced by 6.9%, compared to the average across the sector of 5.1%. In Thursday’s budget, the U of A’s Campus Alberta Grant was reduced by an additional 11%, compared to an average cut of 6%.
To the university’s administration, we say that NASA members are committed to the U of A and will continue to work hard to ensure its success, but they can only do so much in the face of unrealistic cuts.
To our faculty colleagues, we say we’re concerned about the impact further reductions will have on your ability to focus on teaching and research, as the support work NASA members have historically done continues to be transferred to your workload.
To students, we say NASA is deeply concerned about the budget’s impacts on you, the people whom NASA members work hard to support. We know the increase to undergraduate tuition of 7% in fall 2020 and an additional 5–10% in both 2021 and 2022, combined with increases in residence, meal plan costs, and non-instructional fees will make a university education less accessible for many students. Worse yet, Thursday’s budget reduced student aid funding by $31 million dollars. We also worry that we will be seeing cuts to a variety of services students rely on throughout their time at University, including student mental health supports.
To the members of NASA: we see you, we hear you, and we are advocating for you. We will be sharing more information with you as soon as it becomes available. We know that news of this level of cuts will increase the already-high stress levels across our campuses, and NASA will be working hard to support you and advocate for you through this turbulent time.
It’s also important that NASA members engage with the government and their elected representatives in the face of these devastating cuts. We encourage you to attend NASA’s Lunch & Learn event this Thursday at noon to learn more about the budget. You can also expect information in the coming days about actions you can take to have your voice heard.
President, Non-Academic Staff Association