On 18 March, the provincial government tabled Bill 27, a piece of legislation that will completely restructure the funding system for postsecondary and research institutions in Alberta.
If passed, the new bill will dissolve numerous funding agencies in favour of up to four “research and innovation corporations,” which will govern, either individually or in combination, the areas of agriculture, forestry, energy, the environment, health, and any other area determined under the regulation.
“As Alberta has grown, it’s become time to take a really good look at how we can work together better. But it’s hard right now to access the resources of our research system,” said Donna Babscish, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Advanced Education and Technology.
“This will help researchers more easily find who they can partner with. They’ll be able to more easily connect to funding sources and get a clearer sense of the system’s alignment.”
The upcoming change will have broad effects on how and from where the University of Alberta receives much of its funding for research and graduate studies. The University has been in consultation with the provincial government concerning what direction Bill 27 will take the funding system. So far, University officials seem pleased with the opportunity for restructuring.
“Alberta had, over time, developed a lot of little agencies that were funding resources, making it a fairly inefficient and complicated system,” said U of A president Indira Samarasekera.
“I think that what this does is ensure better coordination between the ministry, the entities that are going to assign money, universities, and other ministries within the government. I actually think it’s a much more streamlined arrangement.”
According to Babscish, despite Bill 27’s overhaul on funding infrastructure in Alberta, the amount of funding received by the University and other programs will not be affected.
The change will only affect the bodies governing funding and should have little effect on funding recipients.
Among the general consensus of popularity regarding the legislation, the only concern raised by both U of A staff and government employees has been the transition between the two system structures.
But Babscish assured the concerned parties that the government was taking steps to ensure the fluidity throughout the transition by delaying the dissolution of previous fund coordinating agencies until the change is complete.
“We’ve designed it very purposefully so that the organizations as they stand now will function until the new system is in place to avoid a time between the two where there isn’t a working structure,” she said.
Students’ Union President Janelle Morin voiced confidence in the government’s consultation process with the University.
“It’s important to the future of our provincial economy that we foster research and innovation, and with it, appropriate resources for teaching as well,” she said.
Samarasekera concluded her statement by sharing Morin’s optimism, and emphasizing the opportunity such a restructuring can offer the University.
“There’s a need to be vigilant so we don’t lose this golden opportunity to improve our system. We must develop a system that’s more flexible and reflects the future rather than the past,” she said.
“My concern will be, let’s not go back to how we’ve always done things, but to take advantage of this new opportunity to reorganize our system—an opportunity that only comes around once every 50 years or so. This is a chance to make some real leaps.”