by Alexander Delorme, Communications Staff
The post-secondary-student experience calls to mind many things: hours sitting in lectures, nights bent over books and days spent on campus, receiving hands-on training.
For this reason, it’s no wonder professors and instructors tend to be the more widely recognized staff of advanced education.
However, we’d be hard-pressed to find a student or faculty member who couldn’t attribute their post-secondary experience to the support staff who keep operations going and make post-secondary institutions (PSIs) the vibrant places they are.
Support staff are the unsung heroes of the post-secondary institution. They’re the ones who keep the lights on; who clean and maintain the grounds; stock bookshelves and make research accessible in the libraries and bookstore; and handle admissions, advertising and more in the office.
Their work is inseparable from the learning experience of students, and close to 10,000 of them are AUPE members, living and working in rural and urban Alberta.
“AUPE PSI members are proud to serve Albertans and ensure the next generation has access to the critical thinking and skills they need to participate in the economy of tomorrow,” says AUPE Vice-President and Olds College Admissions Officer Bobby-Joe Borodey.
She adds that this is especially true in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. However, thanks to Jason Kenney’s UCP government and their heartless ideology, these members and their future in Alberta’s advanced education system is now hanging in the balance.
Much like all of Alberta’s public-sector, PSIs have been devastated by Budget 2020, which cut $317 million from the advanced education budget. This includes, but is not limited to, large cuts to the Campus Alberta grant.
“Not everyone in advanced education is paying the price though,” says Borodey. “While post-secondary workers and students are bearing the brunt of the UCP’s austerity budget, university top dogs are still making big bucks.”
Across the province, higher learning institutions have been scrambling to identify the parts of their budget that will be spared and the parts that will suffer in order to meet the UCP’s mandated spending restrictions.
In short, students are paying for government cuts with higher tuition fees, and AUPE members are paying with their livelihoods. Presidents and Directors on the other hand, have been left unscathed.
The result has been hundreds of layoffs – on top of a number of temporary pandemic-related layoffs – suffered by everyday Albertans working at PSIs, as well as higher tuition fees for students, who are picking up the tab to satisfy schools’ need for new revenue streams.
“Raising tuition discourages enrolment and gate keeps education away from low-income students,” says Borodey. “But the UCP seems perfectly okay with that.”
Thanks to the UCP’s 2019 budget, post-secondary schools are able to raise some tuition by up to 30 per cent over the next three years. Tuition is now expected to increase an average of 6.9 per cent across the province.
“In short, students are paying for government cuts with higher tuition fees, and AUPE members are paying with their livelihoods,” says Borodey. “Presidents and Directors on the other hand, have been left unscathed.”
At the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), hundreds of front-line staff lost their positions at the facility because of UCP budget cuts, including 230 AUPE members in February, 2020; 30 more in March; a handful from the athletics department in July; and even more in June, when the campus bookstore was privatized.
Meanwhile, SAIT Board of Directors President and CEO Dr. David Ross made over $495,000 in 2019 alone.
Other PSIs share a similar story. At the University of Calgary (U of C), President and Vice-Chancellor Ed McCauley said the U of C would have to make “difficult decisions” in response the UCP’s 2019 budget cuts.
For McCauley, this meant cutting 250 employees. He, on the other hand, made over $453,000 in 2019.
Just as the UCP have made working Albertans pay for billions in tax cuts for CEOs and big business, PSI cuts have forced workers out of jobs and students to empty their pockets, so the rich can roll in cash.
To make matters worse, schools across the province are still bracing themselves for the delayed “performance based” funding model, which won’t reward schools for their quality of education but rather graduates’ ability to sell themselves in the labour market.
“What Premier Kenney’s government is doing to post-secondary education is unconscionable. It won’t help our schools or our economy in the least. It will just push students, researchers and other Albertans away,” says Borodey.
“Advanced education doesn’t have to be this way, though,” she adds.
We’ve always been the ones with power. Everyday working people are the brain and muscle that keep our economy and institutions turning, and post-secondary institutions are no exception. We don’t need the fat cats and politicians at the top – they need us.
The working-class case for free advanced education
There was a time when Canada’s PSIs were almost fully funded with public dollars. Today, close to 17 countries, including Chile and Germany, run a PSI system with free or nominal tuition.
According to a 2016 report by the Canadian Federation of Students, here in Canada, World War II marked a significant shift in the PSI system as veterans returned home from overseas.
They flooded universities and colleges on a free-tuition system granted by the Federal Government in return for their service. The influx resulted in a massive shift in campus demographics, from children of the rich to working-class people, who challenged the inaccessibility of Canada’s advanced education.
Generations of working-class students and supporters have followed in their footsteps and continued to call for free advanced education.
Free tuition has always been a working-class cause, and it goes hand-in-hand with the push for robust PSI funding that AUPE members are currently fighting for to save their jobs, and protect this public service fundamental to Alberta communities’ wellbeing and vitality.
“We’ve always been the ones with power,” says Borodey. “Everyday working people are the brain and muscle that keep our economy and institutions turning, and post-secondary institutions are no exception. We don’t need the fat cats and politicians at the top – they need us.”
AUPE members have a proud history of standing up for ourselves and all working Albertans. We know that when we fight, we win.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced everyone’s ability to organize and protest in-person, AUPE members are laying the groundwork for a huge campaign to save advanced education.
“We need to talk to each other – about what’s happening to our PSIs and what we’re prepared to do about it,” Borodey says. “We’re all in this together. We need to be fierce, and we’re going to have to do it in solidarity with faculty, students and all of our working sisters, brothers and neighbours.”
Want to help?
AUPE members who want to help organize the Save Advanced Education campaign at their workplace should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org