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Provincial budget round-up 2021: university sector highlights

Alberta and Manitoba reduced postsecondary funding while the other provinces budgeted increases.


Provinces focused their recent budgets on the continued fight against COVID-19 and economic recovery. For some provincial governments, this included decreasing operating grants to postsecondary institutions. For others, giving a boost to PSE funding was part of the package.

In our last provincial budget round-up in 2019, we noted a significant announcement for Ontario: a move to a performance-based funding model for universities and colleges. Premier Doug Ford’s government had originally planned to implement the new funding formula in 2019 but has put it off until 2022-2023 because of the pandemic.

With the COVID-19 pandemic in mind, Alberta has also changed some of its performance-based funding plans. In the new arrangement beginning in the fall, five percent of provincial funding will be tied to an institution’s ability to meet one target (instead of 15 percent of funding contingent on meeting multiple targets). But a slight paring down of the funding model probably won’t win over the university community, which has seen significant cuts from Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government. In this year’s budget, the province cut 5.4 percent of its postsecondary education funding — the biggest cut of any province’s PSE operating budget in 2021.

Here’s a breakdown of what’s important for Canadian universities in this year’s provincial budgets (aside from Newfoundland and Labrador, which hasn’t announced a budget release date yet), from west to east:

British Columbia

  • The province of B.C., led by NDP premier John Horgan, released its budget on April 20, with the largest projected deficit in the province’s history, $9.7 billion, and $3.25 billion earmarked for pandemic recovery.
  • The budget projected that postsecondary education spending in B.C. will go from $7 billion in 2021-2022 to $7.4 billion in 2023-2024, a projected increase of 5.7 percent.
  • The budget included $3.8 billion in capital spending for postsecondary institutions over three years.
  • $5 million will go toward micro-credentials. Previous funding of $4 million was used to deliver 25 micro-credential courses for about 2,000 students. The new funding will help develop 30 more courses.
  • The government will add 110 postsecondary seats for training in early childhood education.
  • $649 million over three years has been allocated to support the postsecondary education sector, including sector wage increases under the Sustainable Services Negotiating Mandate.
  • BC’s budget also allocated $6 million to support work-integrated learning placements for 3,000 students.


  • The Alberta government tabled its 2021 budget on February 25, predicting a deficit of $18.2 billion in the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
  • The 5.4 percent decrease in operational funding for postsecondary institutions means Alberta universities will receive $135 million less than they did in 2020-2021. (The reduction could also be greater, at $174 million, as the province’s budget document included a “budget number” and “forecast number” for its 2020 PSE operating expenses.) The budget also confirmed postsecondary institutions will lose 750 full-time equivalent jobs this year.
  • The University of Alberta’s provincial grant was decreased by 11 percent, meaning the university will lose more than $60 million in funding from the province. Combined with cuts from 2020-2021, the U of A has lost $170 million in provincial funding over the last two and a half years.
  • The budget outlined a 8 percent ($5.7 million) reduction in the University of Lethbridge’s operating and program base grant.
  • There was a six percent reduction ($25 million) to the University of Calgary’s operating budget. Since 2019, the university’s operating budget has been cut by 18 percent.
  • Mount Royal University is only facing a 5 percent reduction in its base grant. MRU will also receive $50 million in capital funding over the next three years for campus renovations.


  • When Saskatchewan’s budget was tabled on April 6, Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan Party government increased the operating budgets of the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina, as well as the institutions’ federated and affiliated colleges, to $447 million from $425 million last year.
  • The province announced it will provide $15 million to support pandemic research by the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at USask, contingent on it receiving federal government funding as well.
  • A further $60 million will go to Saskatchewan postsecondary institutions over the next two years to help with COVID-19 recovery, revenue generation efforts and sector collaboration.


  • Manitoba’s $19.4 billion provincial budget was released on April 7.
  • Universities in the province saw cuts to the funding they receive from the Manitoba government. Facing a $5.9 million, or 1.75 percent, decrease in its operating grant, the University of Manitoba plans to try to compensate for the funding shortfall by increasing student tuition and fees. The university’s provincial funding has been cut by $10 million over the last three years.
  • The Manitoba government has capped tuition increases at 3.75 percent for the year, which is the average increase for tuition at the U of Manitoba.
  • The University of Winnipeg’s operating grant from the province was cut by 3.7 percent, which is equivalent to $2.3 million. According to the university, the province will allow it to apply to recoup that funding loss by submitting a plan in September that outlines how it has ensured high-quality education and responded to COVID-19 challenges.
  • The Manitoba government is using $1 million to establish a new 4-H scholarship program that will provide financial support to current and former 4-H members pursuing postsecondary studies. Working with the Brandon Area Community Foundation and Manitoba 4-H Council, the province plans to create an endowment fund to support $42,000 in scholarships annually.


  • The Ontario government tabled a $186 billion budget on March 24. It’s expected the province’s books will not be balanced until at least 2029 after record spending due to COVID-19.
  • Overall funding for the postsecondary sector will rise from $10.3 billion to $10.7 billion. While base funding is remaining relatively the same year over year, student financial aid is increasing from $895 million in 2019-20 to $1.3 billion in 2020-21.
  • The province proposed a base operating grant of $3.6 billion for universities, along with an additional $106.4 million to support postsecondary institutions with the greatest financial need, particularly from challenges related to COVID-19.
  • The budget allocated $493 million in capital funding over three years to help universities and colleges with campus maintenance and renovation.
  • $90 million over three years will go to colleges and universities to help them renew and purchase modern equipment.
  • Postsecondary courses that provide credits toward a degree, diploma or certificate are now eligible for the new Ontario jobs training tax credit,
  • The province’s budget included $21.4 million in new funding for virtual learning in postsecondary education.
  • The budget expanded provincial student loan eligibility for individuals studying at Indigenous institutions or pursuing ministry-approved micro-credentials.
  • The province also announced $7 million for mental health and addiction services for postsecondary students.


  • This year’s Quebec’s budget was delivered on March 25. The province predicted a $12.3 billion deficit and that it will be back to a balanced budget by 2027-2028.
  • The Coalition Avenir Québec government, led by François Legault, will increase funding to the university sector by 5.5 percent.
  • The province also announced that every postsecondary student who took classes in the fall of 2020 and winter of 2021 will receive a $100 rebate.
  • Between April 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, there will be no interest on student loans.
  • The province is putting $145 million over the next five years toward the health and well-being of postsecondary students.
  • The budget stated that Université Laval is getting $20 million to construct 16 indoor and outdoor tennis courts as an annex to its gym and sports pavilion.

New Brunswick

  • New Brunswick’s government predicted a $244.8 million deficit in its 2021 budget, tabled on March 16.
  • Operating grants to the province’s four publicly funded universities went up by one percent from 2020-21 to 2021-22. This year’s grants total $231.6 million compared to last year’s $229.3 million.

Nova Scotia

  • The first budget from Iain Rankin’s Liberal government was tabled on March 25 and outlined $12.47 billion in expenses.
  • Nova Scotia’s universities saw a $3.7 million increase to their operating grants in this year’s provincial budget.
  • The province is putting $914,000 toward helping to create 70 additional spaces for nursing students at Cape Breton University and Dalhousie University’s Yarmouth campus.

Prince Edward Island

  • P.E.I.’s budget, which projected a $112 million deficit for the coming year, was tabled on March 12.
  • The University of Prince Edward Island will receive a two percent increase in its operating budget.
  • The budget allocated $200,000 for an experiential learning fund to help connect students and co-op placements within their field of study.
  • The Island Advantage Bursary, which supports low- and middle-income students in postsecondary education, saw an increase of $500,000.
  • The province also deferred provincial student loan repayments until September 2021.
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  1. Valentina Galvani / April 28, 2021 at 21:08

    Edmonton here. The UofA’s voting electoral district (where most profs and admin live) was the only non-blue drop in Western Canada at the last federal elections. After that, the PC has immediately started a hard budget war against UofA. It’s a punishment, put it bluntly. Nothing more than that. We are going through a restructuring, and it is not pretty, despite all the PR efforts.

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