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In the 2000s, Alberta invested heavily in its universities. In the 2020s, that’s about to change



Alberta’s Advanced Education minister has informed universities in the province to spend less money and expect to get less money from the government in the future.

Starting in April, provincial grants will be tied to new performance measures, in what Demetrios Nicolaides described as a “total transformation in government funding to our post-secondary institutions.”

This comes on the heels of the UCP government’s lifting of the tuition freeze that had been adopted by the NDP government before it.

All this is necessary, Nicolaides has said, in order to tame Alberta’s massive budget deficits and “improve the financial state of our province before it’s too late.”

The government has further justified its cuts by pointing out that Alberta universities rely more on provincial funding and less on tuition than comparable institutions in the rest of Canada.

That’s true. But it’s not the whole story.

Alberta, indeed, spends more than most provinces, on a per-student basis, when it comes to universities. But it also has a lower participation rate, which drags up our per-student cost, compared with the rest of the country. In theory, Alberta has the capacity to educate more people at a lower cost, per-person.

The run-up in spending didn’t come recently, either. Like many things in Alberta, it came during the largesse of the 2000s, when oil and gas prices ran high and government spending matched. Throughout the 2010s, however, provincial funding to universities has been relatively flat, in real-dollar terms.

Here’s how it breaks down.

Provincial funding in Alberta vs. the rest of Canada

Nicolaides is right when he points out that Alberta funds its universities more so than other provinces.

Universities and degree-granting colleges in Alberta received $2.18 billion in provincial funding in 2017-18, the most recent year for which detailed data is available from Statistics Canada.

That accounted for 47 per cent of their total revenue.

Only in Quebec and Newfoundland did universities rely more on provincial funding.

As a result, Alberta universities also rely less on tuition and fees to pay for their operations.

Student-paid fees accounted for just 19 per cent of total revenue in this province, compared with 28 per cent at universities across Canada.

This trend has been many years in the making.

The 2000s vs. the 2010s

Looking back almost two decades, Alberta was roughly on pace with the rest of the country when it came to funding growth for universities.

Then, in 2004, funding in this province took off.

In the span of the next five years, annual government spending on universities nearly doubled.

Part of this was due to Grant MacEwan and Mount Royal converting from colleges to universities, but that explains only a fraction of the increase.

You still see a “huge run-up in funding in the late 2000s” when you look at provincial funding on a per-student basis, notes Alex Usher, president of Higher Education Strategy Associates, a post-secondary consulting firm.

“This is mostly capital expenditures, from that brief period of astounding generosity where the provincial government just decided that the University of Alberta (in particular) should be the biggest building site this side of Beijing,” Usher writes in an analysis of Alberta’s post-secondary spending history.

Annual provincial funding to universities peaked in 2009-10, then declined for the next four years, before starting to trend upward again. Still, it remains well above the rest of the country.

Alberta’s per-student expenditures were five per cent above the national average in 2000, Usher notes. By 2017-18, that had grown to 48 per cent.

Meanwhile, the difference in student-paid fees was going in the opposite direction.

What students pay

A decade ago, university students in Alberta were paying more for their education than the Canadian average.

But tuition and other compulsory fees have been trending downward in this province, in inflation-adjusted terms.

At the same time, they’ve been going up in the rest of the country.

This year, the average Canadian undergraduate can expect to pay about $6,900 to attend a university in Alberta, versus the national average of nearly $7,400.

Those figures are soon to change, however, as several universities in Alberta have already announced plans to hike tuition in response to the new provincial budget.

Nicolaides has said his aim is for tuition and fees to eventually account for 25 per cent of university revenue in Alberta (up from the rate of 19 per cent mentioned earlier.)

But those increases will only partially offset the planned reductions in government funding. Nicolaides has also signalled that spending cuts will be necessary, and has advised universities start by freezing spending on things like travel.

That’s one area, however, where Alberta universities spend the least.

Where the money goes

As we’ve seen, there are some significant differences in where universities in different provinces get their money.

The differences are smaller in terms of where they spend their money.

Let’s start with travel. It’s a small budget item, but it was highlighted by the minister, so it’s worth looking at.

Nationwide, travel expenses account for just two per cent of university expenditures.

There’s some small variation from province to province, with Manitoba universities spending the most, at 2.6 per cent, in the most recent year for which data is available. Alberta spent the least, at 1.8 per cent.

In every province, the majority of university expenditures went to salaries and benefits for faculty and other staff.

There is some variation, with staff compensation ranging as low as 52.3 per cent of university expenses in Saskatchewan and as high as 60 per cent in New Brunswick and British Columbia.

Alberta was at 57.9 per cent, which is just slightly higher than the national average of 57.7 per cent.

The next highest expense type in Alberta was buildings, land and land improvements, which ate up 8.9 per cent of $4.52 billion in university spending in 2017-18. Scholarships, bursaries and other awards rang in at 5.4 per cent, followed by materials and supplies at 4.1 per cent. The line items get smaller and smaller from there.

We will learn exactly where universities choose to cut spending in the coming months and years — and what the effects will be on post-secondary education.

‘It’s going to be a tricky few years’

In his analysis of Alberta’s post-secondary system, Usher concluded it is a “relatively rich one” compared with other provinces.

This, he wrote, is “primarily because the [Progressive] Conservative government of Ed Stelmach decided higher education was a good way to invest the hydrocarbon windfall and no subsequent government (until now) chose to reverse the policy.”

“Despite all this extra money, participation rates still lag the rest of the country; one consequence of this is that on a per student basis Alberta looks especially generous,” he added.

For all its extra spending, what Alberta has received in return is “not negligible,” Usher says.

Alex Usher is president of Higher Education Strategy Associates, a post-secondary consulting firm. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

He notes that both the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary have been ranked among the top 200 universities in the world, “something very few jurisdictions of [Alberta’s] size can say (on a per-capita basis, only Massachusetts, Switzerland and the Netherlands can top it).”

But that could change, he warns, now that the Alberta government has signalled its intention to bring post-secondary finances in this province more in line with the rest of the country.

“Cuts on a scale sufficient to make Alberta look like ‘the rest of Canada’ put all of this at risk, and do nothing to help alleviate the key problem of low participation rates, either,” he wrote.

“It’s going to be a tricky few years.”

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Northwestern B.C. Indian day school to be demolished by Gitanyow First Nation




To Wanda Good and other members of Gitanyow, the demolition of the Kitwancool Indian Day School’s building this week represents a new chapter in their lives, healing the trauma they suffered during a racist education at the federally operated institution.

On Wednesday, Good conducted a small ceremony at the school she attended from 1972 to 1980, to call back what she believes are the spirits of students that may still linger inside the building after years of abuse.

“We believe that we are our ancestors reincarnated,” she said. “The part of the spirit of that child remains where there was a trauma.”

Located on the Gitanyow reserve, a remote Indigenous community about 260 kilometres northeast of Prince Rupert, B.C., Kitwancool is among the 700 Indian day schools operated across Canada from the 1860s to 1990s. The purpose of the schools was to assimilate Indigenous children by eradicating their native languages and cultures. These schools were publicly funded and often had religious affiliations.

Years of trauma in Kitwancool day school

Kitwancool day school was established by Prince Rupert’s Anglican Diocese of Caledonia in 1938, after a representative wrote to the federal Department of Indian Affairs that local First Nation people needed education in English. It was housed in a log cabin owned by Gitanyow chief Walter Derrick until its formal campus was built in 1949.

But the education that Good and hundreds of other Indigenous children received is more a torture than enlightenment.

“I did experience and witnessed lots of strapping, punching, pulling ears,” said Good. “We actually had music teachers that … would teach us these very racist songs that we would have to sing.”

“We were not allowed to speak our language in the classroom. The children were strapped every time someone said a Gitxsan word.”

In its letter to federal Department of Indian Affairs in 1937, Prince Rupert’s Anglican Diocese of Caledonia discussed the need to build Kitwancool Indian Day School to educate Indigenous children in English. (Library and Archives Canada)

The nightmare ended in 1986, when the school was closed and students were transferred to the Gitanyow Independent School that currently provides kindergarten to Grade 6 education to about 60 children.

The day school premises were repurposed into the Gitanyow Band’s administration office before turning into a gas station several years ago. In light of the building’s disrepair, the band council decided to demolish it and has plans to erect a new gas bar at the same location.

Good said many former students of Kitwancool day school have applied for the federal Indian Day School Settlement program, which offers compensation between $10,000 and $200,000 based on abuse suffered. 

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Students left out of a vision for a “Stronger and More Resilient Canada”




OTTAWA, ON, Sept. 23, 2020 /CNW/ – Students are disappointed by the Federal Government’s continued lack of support, following today’s Speech from the Throne. Today’s speech promised ambitious job creation strategies, which will include scaling up the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy, and helping workers receive education and accreditation. The speech made no mention of investments into post-secondary education or increased support for students – both of which are crucial for this vision.

After a summer of precarious working conditions, a lack of financial support for international students and recent graduates, and the cancelled Canada Student Service Grant, students hoped that this new parliamentary session would include increased support for post-secondary education. “Throughout the pandemic, the Federal Government has failed to adequately support students. International students and recent graduates were excluded from support plans, and those that were eligible didn’t receive enough” said Nicole Brayiannis, Canadian Federation of Students Deputy Chairperson. Instead of bridging these gaps, today’s Throne Speech emphasized a focus on job training and creation. Brayiannis added, “Students want to remind the Trudeau Government that investing in post-secondary education and supporting students who are already receiving training is essential to the goals that were identified today.”

Since March, students have been calling on the Federal Government to provide adequate financial support to ensure they can afford to continue their education amidst the current crisis. “The Trudeau Government needs to stop and listen to what students are asking for,” said Sofia Descalzi, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students. “Students want the same support as everyone else to help them through this pandemic. Instead, they’ve been met with patchwork programs.”

Following the cancellation of the failed Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG), students have called for CSSG funds to be reallocated into a four-month extension of the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB), an increase of the CESB to $2000 per month, and the expansion of CESB eligibility to include international students and recent graduates. Most recently, students have endorsed Motion 46, to convert the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) into a guaranteed livable basic income.

Students assert that investments into post-secondary education are crucial for a just recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Current students and recent graduates need adequate financial support right now. At the same time, the Federal Government should begin to move towards investing in a post-secondary education system that is fully publicly funded. By ensuring that everyone can access the post-secondary education they need, we all stand a better chance at rebuilding the economy.

The Canadian Federation of Students unites over 500,000 college and university students and more than 60 students’ unions throughout the country.

SOURCE Canadian Federation of Students

For further information: Melissa Palermo, Staff: [email protected] or 416-529-8205; Sofia Descalzi, Chairperson: [email protected] or 613-232-7394; Nicole Brayiannis, National Deputy Chairperson: [email protected] or 289-200-2375

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Husky Energy gives Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada to schools in Saskatchewan




“The Province of Saskatchewan is proud to accept this generous donation on behalf of thousands of high school students who will benefit from increasing their knowledge of the important role that First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples play in the history of this country,” Saskatchewan Deputy Premier and Minister of Education Gordon Wyant said.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action cite mandatory Kindergarten to Grade Twelve curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Indigenous peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions as a top priority.

“The important role and long history of Indigenous People in our country has traditionally not been well told, well shared or properly included in the education system in Canada,” says Janet Annesley, Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Human Resources. “Husky is honoured to be a contributing partner in this program by providing a copy of the atlas and online learning resources to students and educators to promote a better understanding of the lives and history of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.”

The Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada is a ground-breaking educational resource, unprecedented in scope. It includes a four-volume print atlas, an online interactive atlas with an accompanying app, Giant Floor Maps, and various other educational resources for classrooms. All educational resources related to the atlas will be made available online to educators in Saskatchewan at Canadian Geographic Education’s website ( as part of this gift.

“Indspire applauds Husky Energy’s generous donation of copies of the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada to all high schools in Saskatchewan,” says Indspire CEO Roberta Jamieson. “Indspire is proud to have been a partner in the creation of the atlas and is delighted to see this resource become more readily available to teachers and students to promote learning about First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, nations and territories as a vital part of Canada’s identity.”

The Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada was produced in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, and Indspire. The atlas was published by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society in 2018 as a response to the Truth and Rec- onciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and as a Canada 150 legacy project supported by Canadian Heritage.

Please join us for our video announcement:

Social Media Links


Métis National Council

Twitter: @HuskyEnergy

Twitter: @MNC_Tweets

Instagram: @HuskyEnergy

Facebook: @HuskyEnergy

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

Canadian Geographic


Twitter: @CanGeo

Instagram: @CanGeo

Assembly of First Nations

Facebook: @CanGeo

Twitter: @AFN_Updates

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

Twitter: @NCTR_UM



Twitter: @RCGS_SGRC

Twitter: @Indspire


Canadian Geographic Education

Facebook: @Indspire

Twitter: @CanGeoEdu


SOURCE Royal Canadian Geographical Society

For further information: Media Information: Kim Guttormson, Manager, Communication Services, Husky Energy, Phone: (403) 298-7088, Email: [email protected]; Nick Foglia, Vice President, Communications & Marketing, Indspire, Phone: (416) 987- 0240, Email: [email protected], Email: [email protected], Sarah Legault, National Director of Development Royal Canadian Geographical Society Mobile: (416) 277-4341, Email: [email protected]

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