News / Edmonton

Alberta post-secondary students fear program cuts based on what universities deem "low value"

Alberta students fear that “low-value” programs the government announced it would target in the spring budget are the very same programs they consider highly valuable.

In his budget address last month, Finance Minister Robin Campbell said the province will be looking for post-secondary institutions to “preserve high demand” programs, while shedding “low-value” ones that “do not represent a good return on investment.”

For University of Alberta student Tymothy Jaddock, that provincial directive could mean his minor is at risk.

With a major in political science and a minor in Ukrainian Folklore, Jaddock said he’s constantly living in fear his program could be considered “low value.”

“Being a student in the faculty of arts, you definitely feel at risk with the budget cuts,” said Jaddock. “The government might not see a high value on this education, but I totally see a high value on it.”

After the province cut post-secondary funding by seven per cent in 2013, Jaddock said he saw essential courses necessary for his degree axed.

“What that (meant) for me, was I (had) to try and take other classes in the (department of modern languages and culture studies), ask the professor if I can write my paper on a Slavic topic and than write a petition to the faculty of arts saying that that class should be counted towards my minor.

“It makes my job as a student way more difficult,” he said. “That’s because folklore is seen as a low value program to the government.”

Advanced Education and Innovation spokesperson John Muir said while the province will be reviewing all institution's requests to suspend a program, it’s up to the post-secondary administration to determine what programs are “low value.”

“We expect all institutions to live within their allocated budgets, so it’s the institutions themselves that realize cost savings. They are in the best position to speak to their individual budget decisions,” he said, adding the government will review each proposal based on a set of criteria (see sidebar).

Jim Brenan was chair of the music and theatre arts programs at Calgary’s Mount Royal University until both were eliminated in 2013.

Brenan said the impacts of the program shutdowns were far-reaching and he believes, in all likelihood, similar programs at other schools will be among the first classified as "low value."

"It's really a lack of understanding," he said. "We have politicians who just don't care . . . shouldn't a university be focusing on greater quality of life, higher education?"

What constitutes low-value?

Here are some of the criteria a post-secondary institutions needs to consider before the government will consider a suspension to one of its programs:

-    A rational for suspension

-    Plans to manage impact on students

-    Labour market demand for graduates

-    Application, enrolment, retention and completion data

-    Alternate programs and/or delivery modes

-    Impact on other programs or partner institutions

-    Consultation with stakeholders

-    Board approval

-    Impact on institutional mandate

-    Could another institution deliver the program in a more cost-effective way

— with files from Jeremy Nolais

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