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Canada Alberta government makes $50-million U-turn on postsecondary funding cuts

Alberta's Minster of Employment and Immigration, Thomas Lukaszuk listens to a question from the media during a press conference in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 22, 2010.

Pawel Dwulit/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Alberta's government is pouring $50-million back into its universities and colleges, a sharp mid-year reversal of course after it cut $147-million from postsecondary education in March's provincial budget.

The province announced the cash infusion to presidents of the schools in a phone call on Wednesday, having signalled for some time that help might be on the way before the next budget, but emphasizing it should be used to increase enrolments and support student access.

Although schools welcomed the about-face, it is unlikely to reverse many of the cuts they made in recent months, including layoffs, buyouts, cancelled courses and suspended enrolments for some programs. It may help prevent further hardship, however. In late August, University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera warned that budget cutbacks would get worse in 2014-15. In an interview on Thursday, she said the reinvestment will "take the edge off" the cutbacks.

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The money will be divided among the 20 institutions whose funding was slashed earlier this year, with the U of A receiving $14.4-million, the University of Calgary $10.6-million, and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology $3.7-million.

Dr. Samarasekera said the restored funding shows the government "felt the pressure from all the commentary around the postsecondary cuts," and particularly program closings that resulted. But she also conceded the province's turbulent austerity agenda has had some positive effects on universities.

"I hate to say this: I think the 7.3-per-cent cut, while a shock to the system, forced us all to wake up and think deeply about how we are doing business, not just now but for the long term," she said.

Alberta's Advanced Education Minister, Thomas Lukaszuk, said he promised schools he would look for extra money, "and I delivered," finding the funds from Treasury Board. He also confirmed the $50-million will be part of their base grants in future.

Opposition parties chided the government for what they called chaotic management.

"We're already partially into the school year," Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said. "If you've suspended programs, how do you then restart that process?"

With a report from The Canadian Press

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