Learning Minister addresses U of C Senate

Tuition is not the problem… student debt is the problem."

These were the words of Alberta Minister of Learning Lyle Oberg at the Jan. 26 University of Calgary Senate meeting. Held in MacEwan Student Centre, the student debt issue was a recurring theme throughout the minister’s speech and subsequent question period. What distinguished this Senate meeting from previous ones, was not simply the presence of a provincial cabinet minister, but also the opening of the proceedings to a public audience of approximately 150, most of whom were students.

Oberg began his speech 10 minutes late with a slide presentation on government funding of education, tuition costs, grants, and other significant financial information. Perceived by some to be questionable, his speech was peppered with substantial heckling, mostly from members of the Revolutionary Anarchist Kollektive.

The purpose of the slides, Oberg stated, "[was] to set the records straight… a little bit." By defining and quantifying the major figures under debate, Oberg hoped to establish some facts before elaborating on his upcoming plans. Instead, the minister continued to be hounded with questions and requests for specifics on figures, and University Chancellor Jack Perraton asked the audience to hold their comments and questions for the end of the presentation.

Oberg also addressed other matters of relevance to students, but was sketchy in describing what kind of remedial measures, if any, would be taken.

"The single biggest issue facing the Government of Alberta, involving post-secondary education, is accessibility," said Oberg, who then briefly alluded to the Access Fund and the diminishing space for students in Alberta.

He moved quickly to the issue of professor recruitment and retention.

"We can’t get into a bidding war with the US over professors and researchers," he said. "You have to recognize that in some areas of expertise we would have to pay $200,000-300,000. We simply don’t have that kind money."

Following Oberg’s speech, the floor was opened for questioning. Senators and students alike asked the minister what he planned to do to resolve perceived problems such as envelope funding, funding for programs such as Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, and greater base funding for post-secondary institutions. Oberg’s response to these queries could best be summed up with his words: "The future looks bright. Keep an eye on the upcoming budget."

No matter what the Minister of Learning and the provincial government have in store for students, many were thankful for the chance to have their say.

"Tuition is going up," said RAK member Dave Henderson. "Lyle Oberg is one of the most direct ways for us to voice our concerns. In this democracy, he is in direct control of our tuition."

Even previous students, Ben Yardling for one, showed up to the meeting.

"I’m here tonight because I can’t afford to go to school, and I loved it a lot."

Despite the prevalent heckling, and what many spectators would describe as a general feeling of frustration on both sides of the room, Oberg promised to schedule a smaller meeting with student representatives to address and discuss any concerns they may wish.

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