Cash back pledge is too late

July 5, 1996

The Canadian province of Alberta's government is reinstating some of the 21 per cent of cuts to higher education it has made in its past three years in office.

The Progressive Conservative Party has revealed a Can$1.13 billion (Pounds 554 million) surplus in the past year's budget. The province's total expenditure was Can$14 billion in 1995/96.

Although premier Ralph Klein has identified education as one of the priorities for a cash reinjection, Alberta's universities and colleges will see only about 1 per cent more money from the advanced education and career development budget.

Mr Klein said: "We're being very, very cautious in terms of the reinvestment in order not to create the expectation that we're going to go on a spending spree."

But the province's largest post-secondary institution, the University of Alberta, which should feel the benefit of an extra Can$25 million in its Can$515 million budget, will probably not reopen axed programmes or reduce continuously rising tuition fees.

Doug Owram, Alberta's vice president for academic affairs, said: "It's still a long way from where we were three years ago."

Mr Owram added that he would have liked to have seen a higher percentage of the surplus going to universities like his which need the money to stay competitive in academic hiring.

With 80 per cent of the budget spent on salaries, the senior administrator says there have not been many other areas from which to cut.

Alberta plans to turn over almost a quarter of its 1,412 tenured faculty with retirements and 300 new tenure-track positions over the next three years.

The provincial surplus - after the government predicted a Can$506 million deficit - was due mostly to robust oil prices and more corporate taxes. The Klein government was required by law to plough the surplus into debt reduction.

The new money is possible because of lower interest payments to service the debt. Grant Mitchell, the leader of the provincial opposition Liberals, called Mr Klein's reinvestment plan a cynical election ploy aimed at getting Albertans to forget the pain caused by dramatic spending cuts.

But Mr Owram saw the announcement in a more positive light. The ongoing talks between his university and the government and the small increase in funding coupled with the government's surplus may be a sign of a change by the fiscally tight Tories.

"I see a loosening of the purse strings," said Mr Owram.

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