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Department chair Laura Beard says some cuts will have minor impact on students.JASON FRANSON/The Globe and Mail

The University of Alberta has taken the first steps toward closing 20 arts programs, suspending enrolment in a range of academic majors such as languages and music in an effort to cope with substantial budget shortfalls.

The programs were singled out among the faculty of arts for low demand, having had 10 or fewer students enrolled each fall from 2005 to 2012. The decision was circulated in an internal memo to department chairs on Friday, less than two weeks after the U of A offered a voluntary buyout package aimed at trimming its faculty ranks.

The suspended programs are among several money-saving measures hitting home at Alberta's universities and colleges this fall, after the province cut university funding by 7 per cent in its March budget. Sparsely populated arts and language courses were among the first programs deemed expendable as the U of A tries to refocus funds on flagship disciplines, as has often been the case in other provinces facing funding woes. Similar reviews will likely be repeated in the U of A's other faculties.

"We've all just been sharpened by the budget cuts that were delivered in March, and we're trying to make sure that our house is in order," said Heather Zwicker, the U of A's vice-dean of arts.

All fifty students already enrolled across the 20 majors will be able to finish their programs, and many courses within the programs will still be offered, though some are expected to be axed. And the U of A is not the first Alberta school to contemplate closing programs – in April, Mount Royal University in Calgary announced it would suspend eight programs, including a theatre-arts diploma and a journalism certificate. The day after the provincial budget was revealed, U of A president Indira Samarasekera told The Globe and Mail she planned to use the cuts as a way of "reinvesting our resources in what we do best," and if that meant closing some programs, "we will undertake to do that." In a separate June interview, she also cautioned that the cuts would "hurt students in the long term."

But Laura Beard, chair of the department of modern languages and cultural studies, which houses several of the suspended majors, expects the impact of halting some arts enrolments will be minimal for most students. "We still have 44 majors just within the [bachelor of arts degree], and arts actually offers 12 different degrees," she said.

Some students are still feeling uneasy. Daniela Munoz, 23, is majoring in Latin American studies, one of the soon-to-be-suspended programs, and worries she may wind up with fewer courses to choose from and be forced to look to other departments for credits.

"I am paying tuition, and I feel like my program being cut is like telling me, well, we don't value you as a student here," Ms. Munoz said. "It's sad, and it's unfair."

Alberta's Advanced Education Minister, Thomas Lukaszuk, supported U of A's decision. "Some argue that if you eliminate programs and you don't offer everything to everybody, that somehow speaks to quality, and I disagree with that premise," he said. "We don't judge our universities simply by the number of courses they offer."

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