There are over 15,000 post-secondary support staff that work at universities, colleges, and technical institutes across Alberta. Support staff roles are varied, comprising building service workers, library personnel, administrative and clerical personnel, teachers, researchers, and lab assistants. Support staff underpin the work and learning of students and academic staff in the province.
Massive cuts to the sector have meant millions less for the operating budgets of universities, colleges, and institutions. This has also translated into thousands of job losses for support staff across the sector. Opportunities for education in smaller cities and towns are under threat which means students will have to travel further to receive their education, and that the educational quality of the larger institutions is compromised. Post-secondary institutions are an economic driver of all communities they are in, and this will be felt especially sharply by the communities as even more jobs are lost, and students leave to other locations.
Support staff are essential to the work and learning conditions of students. The impact of the cuts will have long-lasting effects on workers in the province, affecting staff workload and mental health for those who remain after the budget cuts. Post-secondary is essential to economic recovery and prosperity.
Post-secondary students are the future of Alberta. These are our future teachers, medical professionals, researchers, tradespeople, and artists. The quality of their education is essential to creating a vibrant and diverse workforce with the skills and knowledge to meaningfully contribute to Alberta’s economy.
With government cuts and a lift on the tuition caps, students can expect to have their tuition skyrocket – up to 22.5% higher in coming years. With the average Alberta undergraduate student graduating with $31,000 of debt, this will make a bad situation even worse – limiting their ability to start families, buy homes, and participate in the local economy.
On top of the financial pressure, student mental health is a continual concern, especially with the impacts of COVID-19. The abrupt transition to online learning, without proper financial and other resources for instructors to make the transition has increased student stress and raised concerns about the quality of instruction being provided. Cuts to operational funding could jeopardize many services students and faculty rely on. Cuts to departmental and faculty offices mean that faculty members are expected to help students navigate through the university’s complex administration system...Additionally, cuts to non-academic supports can impact student success as they progress through their studies.
The books cannot be balanced on the backs of Alberta’s students. Budget shortfalls being made up by passing costs on to individual students mean that families are paying more for less. Student debt is family debt.
Even before the budget cuts and the pandemic, faculty were facing a wide range of issues. A hiring freeze that has been in place for years has meant that when professors/instructors retire or move away, they are not replaced with full-time faculty. This drastically increases the number of precarious sessional instructors in the system who shoulder the burdens of non-standard employment. In its comprehensive study, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has described these as “dismal working conditions.”
Sessional instructors do not receive the assurance of job security which comes with a tenured position and often have to reapply for their jobs every 4 months or every year. Sessional instructors face financial precarity, are generally underpaid, and don’t know what their workload is going to look like from term to term – a situation made much worse by cuts to operational funding that has led to class cancellations and some sessionals being left without work or any income at all. While sessionals are often the most effective instructors on campuses across the province, they are rarely seen to be or treated like members of the institutions they so tirelessly serve.
Provincial research funding disproportionately favours research in the interests of corporations and extractive industries, rather than research in the public interest. Faculty would like to see provincial research funding to be awarded based on a peer-reviewed system that values all disciplines, in order to create a diverse, robust intellectual life for all Albertans.
Now, with COVID-19 forcing the move to online teaching for most institutions, supports are not in place for faculty.
Class sizes are ballooning and workloads are increasing. Despite Alberta having a nationally acclaimed example of how to properly support distance learning (in Athabasca University), efforts to get support for tenured faculty and sessionals have fallen on the deaf ears of our administrations and the provincial government. This lack of distance learning training and increasing class sizes is compounded by drastic layoffs of support staff who are essential to the work of faculty. Alberta faculty want to receive more distance learning training and to see an increased amount of support staff at our universities, colleges, and technical institutes in order to continue delivering the high-quality post-secondary education that Alberta students and families have come to expect.
It doesn’t have to be this way. These cuts are choices made by a provincial government that doesn’t understand the post-secondary system it is charged to lead. Sustainable operational funding and an end to the hiring freeze will mean job security for faculty and strong educational programs for our students.