Access… Okay’d

By Angela Nicol

Think of it as a small CAUS for celebration. Alberta Learning Minister Lyle Oberg has agreed to work with the Council of Alberta University Students to formulate a study about financial accessibility to post-secondary education in Alberta.

"We hope this will be a comprehensive study into who is falling through the cracks in the system, whether it’s because they haven’t received any bursaries or scholarships, or simply can’t afford to attend post-secondary education," said CAUS member and University
of Calgary Students’ Union President Rob South.

The decision was made at a meeting between Oberg, Deputy Minister Maria David-Evans, and members of CAUS, a provincial student lobby group, Sept. 15 in Edmonton.

All parties felt the meeting was productive, although there is still much work to be done.

"The minister indicated that the students brought up some good ideas that he wants to look at," said Alberta Learning Spokesperson Ed Greenberg. "It’s a partnership that the Minister believes in, trying to work not only with the post-secondary institutions, but also with the students who are in the system or want to attend post-secondary institutions in the province."

According to CAUS Chair and University of Alberta Vice-president External Leslie Church, CAUS can now access the resources it needs to carry out its ideas on a provincial scale.

"The government is the only body that really has the resources and the provincial scope to be able to conduct such a study," said Church. "It was my impression that the minister in particular has quite a bit of sympathy as to student finance."

CAUS has been pushing the study since March, and considers the agreement with Oberg a breakthrough. The ministry has requested caus’ input to create the study, which will be carried out by an independent firm. CAUS hopes this study will come through where others have fallen short.

"Before now, no one has really looked at how, in entirety, students are paying for their education," said Church. "So, with the study of financial accessibility, that’s the approach we are hoping to take." She added that until now, no one has stopped to consider the effects of student loans and private lines of credit on a student’s financial situation.

The goal of the study is to identify financial problems students have and offer possible solutions.

"Many questions are raised when we think about accessibility," said Church. "How are students coping? How is their quality of education affected? Are there students out there who would like to come to university that aren’t because they either can’t put the funding in place, or because of the simple fact that no matter what they do, they still can’t afford to go?"

The accessibility study proposal has been presented to the Alberta Ministry of Learning, and details such as when the study will begin, how long it will run, and who will conduct it are yet to be determined. CAUS plans to keep in touch with the ministry regarding the study.

"I would hope that over the next couple of months there’ll be some more contact between the ministry, CAUS, and the individual students’ unions we represent to try and determine the specific focus of the questions," said Church.

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