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Alberta government promises millions for new post-secondary seats

At the start of the next post-secondary school year, there could be 850 new high-demand seats for students in Calgary in health, business, and technology programs.

Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides and Minister for Health Jason Copping announced millions in additional operational funding for the creation of post-secondary program seats across the province.

The province has said they are spending $193 million to create seats at universities across the province, with the bulk of the funding going towards continued programs announced in 2022, at $86 million, and funding for health care training programs, also at $86 million.

The remaining $20.6 million will be used to create seats in business and technology programs.

“Sometimes we and other post-secondary institutions simply can’t keep up with the demand,” said UCalgary president and vice-chancellor Ed McCauley.

“This investment that both ministers announced today will help us grow targeted enrollment in high-demand areas, areas like medicine.”

UCalgary is expected to receive $12.2 million of funding for programs in their Cumming School of Medicine for Masters of Physican Assistant students (40 seats) and Bachelor of Nursing students (96 seats). Bow Valley College will be getting $736,696 for 48 online Practical Nursing seats, while SAIT will be receiving $2.9 million for 90 seats in primary and advanced care paramedicine.

“I want to thank all of our post-secondary institutions for responding to the government’s request to expand spaces and some of their most high demand programs,” said Minister Nicolaides.

“We were overwhelmed and received 131 proposals and all of them were indeed worthy and of high quality. And I’m happy to announce that each post secondary institution in Alberta will receive funding for at least one program.”

Operational funding for institutions to create seats, not for tuition

Minister Nicolaides, when asked about whether the funding would cover the ability for students to remain in seats once they are in programs, in the form of tuition support, said no.

“Today’s announcement, we’re looking primarily at operating funding to our universities and colleges so that they can expand spaces,” he said.

“There’s no question all Albertans are feeling the pinch, and all Albertans are struggling with high inflation and increased cost of everything. And that applies for our students as well.”

He said that previous government announcements about capping tuition to two per cent yearly, and new student aid programs in the form of bursaries and grants would cover student ability to stay in programs.

“There are bursaries, new scholarships and other financial instruments available for students. We made some changes to loan limits, grace periods and interest rates. All of that to try and help our students get through these difficult times,” Minister Nicolaides said.

“Comparatively tuition right now in Alberta is very comparable to the national average.”

According to data collected by Statistics Canada, the average Canadian undergraduate tuition is $6,834 for 2022/23, while Alberta’s is $7,221—fourth highest in the country behind Ontario, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick.

The University of Calgary’s Student Union president said that the two per cent cap wasn’t enough.

“The two per cent cap is too little, too late for students. This cap doesn’t take effect until the 2024-25 year and UCalgary students will be paying 33 per cent more, or $1,200 more per year, than they did in 2019 by then,” said SU president Nicole Schmidt.

“For students in the Medical Doctor program, they have seen similar increases to other students plus a 15.7 per cent exceptional tuition increase approved by the Minister. The two per cent cap definitely does not make up for these massive tuition increases students have faced. Students need real and effective affordability supports and the cap isn’t it.”

Going beyond healthcare education spots

Alberta NDP Critic for Health David Shepherd said that the government’s promises to students did not go far enough to addressing issues in education or in health care.

“While more post-secondary spaces for future healthcare workers are welcome, we must end the UCP chaos in healthcare to attract the workers we need. Thousands of scheduled nursing shifts are going unfilled every month because of the UCP’s war on healthcare workers,” he said.

“I’m very proud that the Alberta NDP is committed to not only freezing tuition but reversing the most recent tuition increases approved by Danielle Smith and the UCP. We will also connect a million Alberta with a family doctor and a Family Health Team.”

Minister Copping said that the government would be undertaking a targeted recruitment process of healthcare workers in the US and in the UK to supplement additional post-secondary education seats.

“We are targeting those locations because we know that there’s a surplus,” he said.