By Rob South
Armed with a request for a tuition freeze, a reformed student loan program and an extension of the Jason Lang scholarship, student leaders from the Council of Alberta University Students met with Learning Minister Lyle Oberg on Oct. 17. Both CAUS and the Ministry agree the meeting was productive.
"It was a successful meeting because Dr. Oberg changed his view on some subjects, specifically his recognition that our post-secondary institutions are underfunded," said CAUS member and University of Calgary Students’ Union Vice-president External Duncan Wojtaszek. "He is looking to make post-secondary education a larger priority for this government."
However, this does not mean the Ministry of Learning accepted all of CAUS’s proposals. According to Ministry spokesperson Randy Kilburn, Oberg rejected CAUS’s proposed two per cent tuition freeze.
"The minister is not in favour of freezing [tuition]," said Kilburn. "The rate of increase may need to be addressed, there may be some pressure taken off institutions so they are not so reliant on tuition revenues."
The two groups came much closer to agreement on two other issues: the extension of the Jason Lang Scholarship and automatic debt remission. Presently an Alberta Student Loan debt is capped at $5,000 per full year of study, but students have to fill out an application form for loan remission.
"[Oberg] didn’t like the idea some students were being denied remission because they didn’t fill in a form," said Wojtaszek.
Kilburn said the Ministry will be working with student groups to try to institute automatic loan remission but he warned this does not mean it will happen.
"It is certainly something [Oberg] supports, but at the same time, there are processes the Ministry has to go through in order for loan remission to become automatic in the future," said Kilburn. "It is an idea that is high on [Oberg’s] issues list."
As for the Jason Lang Scholarship, both groups spoke positively about the new program which will see 3,000 second-year students across Alberta receive $1,000 each this month.
"Three million in total is a strong contributor to the financial state of those 3,000 students," said Kilburn. "This program has been an extremely positive experience."
According to Wojtaszek, Oberg promised to look in to extending the program to third and fourth-year students.
The only area where there was complete disagreement between CAUS and the Ministry appeared to be the issue of parental contribution for student loans, a clause which ties the amount of money a student can borrow to their parents’ income for up to four years after they graduate from high school.
"Students are adults," said Wojtaszek. "Students are able to recognize for themselves what their needs are. Remember, these are loans not grants."
"Across the public post-secondary system students are paying approximately 22 per cent of the costs of their education," said Kilburn. "The other 78 per cent is paid by the taxpayer. Those families who can pay for their education do. Those who can’t are eligible for loans and grants."
Despite this disagreement, both groups were pleased the meeting occurred.
CAUS is an organization that tries to collectively represent university students across the province to the provincial government and the public. The membership of CAUS is comprised of the U of C SU, the University of Alberta SU, the University of Lethbridge SU and the U of C Graduate Students’ Association.