New library not in the balance books
We’re still pushing for it, says MRU president
Alberta’s provincial budget for 2012 is here and it contains both good and bad news for Mount Royal University.
The ruling party released a pre-election budget on Feb. 9, which included what they called “predictable funding” for the education system. However, it doesn’t appear the Tories plan on coughing up the cash needed to proceed with the university’s plan to build a state-of-the-art library.
MRU president David Docherty has made library improvements a priority since arriving last year, but the new budget has slowed the flow of funds to capital infrastructure building, leaving little room for new projects.
Translation: MRU’s library expansion is on hold for now.
“It’s disappointing, but the debate still isn’t over as far as we’re concerned and we’ll continue to press for that,” Docherty said. “It’s still my number one priority, and I will fight until we get the library.”
He said conversations with ministers have indicated the money for such projects might free up sooner rather than later, and the library won’t be forgotten though the school may end up having to go ahead with other improvements first.
However, the budget also included some relief for Alberta’s post-secondary institutions. The highlight of the $2.9 billion advanced education budget was a two per cent increase in funding per year for the next three years.
Docherty said the promise of stable funding was helpful because they’ll be able to start planning up to two years in advance for the first time in years.
“We will have some difficult decisions to make,” Docherty said. “I must say in the first year it’ll be not quite as bad and knowing that we’ve got three years of funding at two per cent, it’ll allow us some time to start to plan.”
Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Education and Technology, Greg Weadick, said the funding was in response to hearing “loud and clear” from institutions they need long-term, sustainable funding.
Alberta will also “continue to provide more money in scholarships to deserving students than all other provinces combined, with 37,500 students sharing more than $71 million,” according to a Conservative news release.
Weadick said he considers the budget to be very realistic and the province’s revenue stream will be stable over the next few years. He added that schools know what they’re going to get and can rely on it to plan for the future.
The Alberta Liberal party has also released their election platform, which calls for eventual elimination of post-secondary tuition. The plan involves first capping tuition so it can’t rise any higher, then establishing a fund that would reduce tuition and slowly bring it to zero.
Weadick said such a plan would cost taxpayers in excess of a billion dollars, and he believes the current system, with the taxpayer covering 75-80 per cent of education costs and the student paying 20-25 per cent, is fair and reasonable.
“I do not support that in any way,” Weadick said. “To tell you the honest truth, from what I hear from students they also believe that they should have some skin in the game when it comes to their education.
“(Education is) extremely important to students and they’re prepared to invest in it.”
However, Weadick said the Liberal plan to forgive student loans for people who remain in Alberta to work after graduation has some merit.
“We may see that something for retention could be looked at in the future,” he said. “You know what? That may be an idea that is worth having a look at.”
In fact, the government announced on Feb. 13 that they will provide a $1,000 retention grant to students who remain in Alberta for three years after graduation, but only if they are working in “essential occupations,” to be defined at a later date.
What other parties are saying:
Alberta Liberal Party
The PCs are hiding behind a “coward’s budget.” The predictions for a 20 per cent increase in revenue are unrealistic, and it does not include the progressive tax and rise in corporate tax that are needed to address Alberta’s structural deficit. Today’s bills should be paid with today’s taxes rather than “stealing from future generations.” (Source: Alberta Liberal Party release)
It’s an “Alison in Wonderland” budget with revenue predictions that are “nothing short of fiction and given the world debt crisis, incredibly irresponsible.” Redford is risking financial ruin for Alberta. The government will surely raise taxes, but we won’t know how much until after the election. Wildrose is the only party against any new or increased taxes. (Source: Wildrose Caucus release)
Alberta’s budgeting process needs to be brought into the 21st century. The government and other parties have a listening problem. They “show the pretense of listening, but lack the courage to do what Albertans tell them.” Albertans want a voice in where we’re going, and know the province isn’t living up to it’s potential. (Source: Alberta Party release)