When the government of Alberta rolled out its new budget with significant funding cuts to the post-secondary education sector?we all knew there would be long-term consequences to education as a whole.
What we might not have expected was to start seeing those consequences so soon.
On the heels of the budget comes Athabasca University’s announcement of major staffing cuts. As the Edmonton Journal reported, over the next few weeks 44 AU staff members will be laid off, joining 35 staff members who are voluntarily leaving employment. Additionally, a hiring freeze means that 34 previously vacated positions ?won’t be filled.?
Is this a reflection on the political-educational climate of Alberta or the result of internal problems at AU itself? While AU has had its share of controversy over the past year?including the removal of several senior staff members?the budget cuts aren’t an unreasonable culprit. One University of Alberta blogger expects similar announcements at the U of A, calling the budget situation a ?crisis.?
Regardless of the cause, It’s the effect that has students worried. While It’s unclear who exactly these staff members are?AU hasn’t provided details, and the Journal notes that It’s ?a mix of support staff, management and faculty??the loss is not going to go unnoticed. Added together, the staffing changes work out to eight per cent of the AU staff. That’s nearly a tenth of the people who have been supporting AU’s student body of 40,000.
Athabasca University is growing. Current enrollment is expected to continue increasing, yet AU insists that this isn’t going to be an issue. The reasoning? Because of the nature of most AU undergrad courses, bigger class sizes ?won’t really have an impact on students,? according to information obtained by the Journal.
And yet combined with the staffing cuts, increasing the undergraduate student body seems like a recipe for disaster.
A representative for AU seemed to confirm this, telling Journal reporters that remaining staff are ?going to have to work harder? to reduce the negative effects on students. More significantly, he added that ?Certain faculty will have to take on a higher teaching load.?
In other words, the remaining faculty will need to spread themselves still thinner to cover both the growing student body and the staffing deficit left by this round of cuts. There’s no question that this will impact AU students? educational experiences.
In theory, budget cuts are always given a reason, but sometimes the reasoning isn’t carried all the way down the line. The students are the ultimate casualty in this financial mess.