By Rob South
Though Learning Minister Lyle Oberg received thousands of postcards last week, they weren’t from people on vacation. Oberg was lobbied to freeze tuition by university and college students across Alberta.
"We wanted to have a clear way of demonstrating student support," said University of Alberta Students’ Union President Leslie Church.
Close to 25,000 postcards were delivered to the legislature by Church and Medicine
Hat Students’ Association President Blaine Houge. By chance, right after Church and Houge dropped off the letters, they ended up on the same elevator as Premier Ralph Klein. The two briefly lobbied Klein on the elevator ride up to the Premier’s office.
Later that day, Oberg faced questions from both opposition members and government backbenchers.
"I feel the best way to approach [tuition] is to work with the universities, with the colleges and allow them, by giving them more money for their budgets, to decrease the amount of tuition fees," said Oberg in the legislature. "In some universities and some colleges in this province the tuition increase has been zero per cent. I don’t want to change that."
Church is optimistic that significant increases in funding may come to the post-secondary system this year, particularly because of the time and effort devoted to a funding review chaired by backbencher Rob Renner.
"I hope the provincial government will follow through and provide an increase in funding to take the pressure off institutions to raise fees," said Church. "If there is a year, this is it. I mean how big does the surplus have to be?"
Oberg took the unusual step of commenting in the legislature on the potential tuition increase at the University of Alberta.
"In a newspaper article last week there was announced a potential 5.7 per cent increase at the U of A," said Oberg in question period. "This is unacceptable. I have talked to the
U of A officials at this time, and we will come up with an agreement on this."
"If [Oberg] truly believes that 5.7 per cent is unacceptable," responded Church, "I hope he will put his weight behind his statements to ensure U of A students will get a better deal. We won’t know until we see some action from them on the issue."