Nursing, engineering, aviation among Calgary programs getting $85M boost from the province

The Alberta government will spend $84.6 million over the next three years to fund 3,000 new seats in popular programs — like aviation, quantum computing and health care — at six Calgary post-secondary institutions.

The funding will create more than 3,000 new seats for popular post-secondary programs

Elizabeth Evans, interim provost and vice-president (academic) at Mount Royal University, says the funding will help to fill talent gaps in Alberta. (Mike Symington/CBC)

The Alberta government will spend $84.6 million over the next three years to fund more than 3,000 new seats in popular programs — like aviation, quantum computing and health care — at six Calgary post-secondary institutions.

In the announcement Monday, the government said the funding would support 28 programs in total.

Ambrose University, Bow Valley College, Mount Royal University (MRU), the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), St. Mary's University and the University of Calgary will all benefit from the funding.

"Creating opportunities in post-secondary education is critical," said Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides. 

"It opens new doors for individuals, for families, helps them to aspire and reach new heights, and as well helps to strengthen our broader economy."

Alberta's minister of advanced education made the announcement at Mount Royal University's Springbank Campus, which hosts its aviation department. (Mike Symington/CBC)

The University of Calgary is getting $61 million, the largest chunk of the money, which will create more than 1,300 new spaces at the school. The investment includes about $8 million already announced last week to support the school's faculty of veterinary medicine.

The additional money will go toward programs like software engineering, nursing and computer science, which are all in high demand, according to University president Ed McCauley.

"We're turning students away. That's not good for them, and it's also not good for our economy and for the future of the province of Alberta," he said.

SAIT will receive $10.8 million for its aviation, film production and business administration courses. 

Ed McCauley, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary, says the funds will help to ensure the school is not turning away qualified students. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Mount Royal University will get $7.9 million, allowing it to open more spaces in science, computer information systems and business administration programs.

"We know that the economic recovery from the pandemic has highlighted talent gaps globally and certainly in Alberta, including labour shortages in key sectors," said interim provost and vice-president (academic) of MRU Elizabeth Evans.

"Access to post-secondary education is key to Alberta's economic future."

Of the remaining funds, $4.6 million will go to Bow Valley College, $198,000 to Ambrose University and $148,000 to St. Mary's University.

In a statement, the NDP critic for Advanced Education, David Eggen, said the funding comes after budget cuts, increased interest on student debt and increased tuition costs.

"Some days, the UCP says they are supporting training in nursing, engineering, business and STEM — yet at the same time, the minister approves exceptional tuition increases in these very areas," he said.

"Across the board, it's clear Albertans can't trust the UCP to act in the best interest of our province and its future as their policy fails to create a society where people seeking career training and further education may thrive and be set up for success."

When asked about tuition increases, Nicolaides said Alberta's rates are below the national average.

"With respect to some of the funding reductions over the past couple of years, I mean, we've seen that we've operated at higher funding levels than other provinces, and so there needed to be a correction there," he said.

"I can't presuppose what the future will look like, but I think there's a strong desire and demand, from my part and I think the government as a whole, to help more students access high-demand programs."

The funding is part of the government's Alberta at Work initiative, which helps Albertans gain in-demand skills to support economic growth and attract investment.

In total, the province is investing more than $171 million over three years in post-secondary programs across the province, creating about 10,000 new spaces — a commitment it made in its 2022 budget.

The programs will be ready to accept more students by this fall.