For the first time in more than 30 years, more Albertans aged 18 to 24 left the province than came in last year, according to the latest Statistics Canada census.
That sort of brain drain threatens the future economic prosperity of the province, said NDP leader Rachel Notley in Red Deer on Wednesday.
“It’s a very, very big concern. I’ve been talking to business leaders across the province who have been watching this for a while and they are very concerned.
“We have always been a magnet for highly educated, young people to move to Alberta. That’s what has driven our demographic advantage over the rest of the country. Now, not only are they not coming here, but our young folks are leaving.”
A University of Alberta Students’ Union survey found six out of 10 student respondents said there was a 50-50 chance they would leave Alberta after they graduate.
There are a variety of reasons for the migration trend, but a post-secondary education system that is growing increasingly out of reach for many is one of them, said Notley.
“I know Red Deer has always been worried about people migrating to Calgary and Edmonton. But now Calgary and Edmonton are worried about people migrating to Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax.”
In a news conference at the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, Notley highlighted her party’s plan, which was released last Friday, to strengthen the post-secondary system.
It proposes boosting funding and dumping the performance-based funding model, as well as making post-secondary studies more affordable by tying tuition increases to inflation. To come up with new ideas for improving the system, the NDP proposes a future leaders council that would include students, educators; business, cultural and government leaders, and Indigenous representatives.
Notley took Premier Jason Kenney’s government to task for slashing $690 million in post-secondary funding, leading to 1,400 lost jobs, the closing of seven rural campuses and the elimination of 17 programs.
Red Deer Polytechnic third-year education student Will Langille said many students are disheartened by the growing challenges they face.
“We all feel let down. They are giving us neither what we want, nor what we need as Alberta’s future,” said Langille.
“We struggle to put into words at times the amount of attack that we’ve seen on our post-secondary institutions in this province.”
In the first year of the pandemic, some fees were dropped for students. But those are back and students are facing tuition increases on top, he said.
“In a time when students need the most support and the most help from our provincial government we’re seeing less and less of it.”
Lab technologist Marie Grabowski already has two diplomas from NAIT. She is now working on a technology degree and is finding it challenging.
“The increase in cost is making it very unaffordable and sometimes out of reach for certain people, who even if they want to make a change in life how can they?” said Grabowski, who lives in Springbrook and works at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.
In the modern workforce, upgrading skills is increasingly important, she said. The option of going back to school, furthering education and learning the latest developments in one’s chosen field should be more readily available.
“That should be an affordable thing because if you do that as a society your society is more healthy.”
Education should be seen by government as an investment not an expense, she said.
“When they talk about investing in education that person is going to be able to further their career and have a higher paying job and than that higher paying job will be reflected in our economy.”