Alberta post-secondary faces fragile financial future

In December 2017, post-secondary institutions in Alberta were given two weeks by the provincial government to submit plans for discretionary spending cuts.


“It’s no secret that we are under some significant financial pressure as the Government of Alberta. We have to make sure we’re spending all of our money wisely,” said Alberta Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt.


“When it comes to post-secondary education, we want to make sure that the money the government gives to university and colleges is targeted towards class rooms and quality education.”


The savings included in the plans were not part of the current post-secondary

budget. The organizations required to make these cuts include all Alberta public agencies, boards and commissions.


These savings are expected to be maintained in the future.


“We’re working with post-secondaries to optimize their budgets so that their targets are towards improving the classroom experience for students, while reducing the non-essential functions that go on at universities and colleges,” said Schmidt.


Recommendations include a hiring restraint, suspending non-essential grants, limiting travel, hosting, advertising, working sessions and conferences that are not directly impacting the services and programs available to students in Alberta.


Schmidt said that these discretionary spending cuts were not a result of the tuition freeze and instead reflected the current state of Alberta’s struggling economy.


“We want to send a message to post-secondary institutions. We want to maximize

the spending so that its reaching as many students and classrooms that we can possibly have,” said Schmidt.


In December 2017, 16 support staff at SAIT were laid off in a, “small organizational restructure,” that the post-secondary said would not affect the services and experience offered to students.


As of February 2018, employees at SAIT are being offered a, “one-time voluntary

departure incentive program,” in an effort to allow the post-secondary to deal with recent budget constraints.


In exchange for exiting their position early, employees will receive a financial

incentive. This voluntary buyout is available for employees who have been with the school for more than seven years.


The voluntary buyouts came to light in a leaked email, verified by SAIT.


“I don’t necessarily see how it’s going to benefit students,” said Rachel

Moerschfelder, SAITSA vice president external.


“We sympathize with the institution, this was definitely sprung on them last

minute. This wasn’t something that the student’s association celebrated, it was something we were shocked by,” said Moerschfelder.


The provincial government is currently working on executive compensation within post-secondaries in an effort to reinforce that these employees serve the public first, and that money in post-secondaries is going directly to student education and experience.


The vice president external said she has seen the NDP take steps for students by addressing financial concerns and more investments in post-secondary education.


“I think that it is necessary for the institution to look at some of the fees that they can cut back on. There is a huge discrepancy between what the executivesearn and what the institution makes as an organization as a whole in comparison to their stakeholders,” said Moerschfelder.


“I do have a problem when your main stakeholder is someone who is struggling to pay rent, someone who is struggling to get by to pay for food. Students should be the most important stake holders, and we’re one of the most distraught groups,” said Moerschfelder.


Moerschfelder said she would like to see an exploration of other ways tosupport students financially as well as expanding and improving the services available to students.

There were more than 150 SAIT employees listed on the 2016 sunshine list, the most recent data available.

Employees on the sunshine list include all SAIT board members and employees who earn more than $125,000 a year.


Their salaries are shared under the Public Sector Compensation Disclosure Transparency Act introduced by the provincial government requiring all publicly funded organizations to disclose employees whose base salaries, severance, benefits and compensation are larger than $125,000.

In 2016, $36,646,443.91 in compensation, $3,090,231.74 in severance and $6,669,573.52 in other compensations were on the SAIT sunshine list.


Chris Gerritsen, SAIT spokesman, said, “SAIT is following the government’s direction on discretionary spending. We will continue to be proactive in a fiscally responsible manner and, at the same time, ensure we are able to both foster meaningful career paths for our employees and provide career-ready graduates to industry in support of our economy.”

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