Post-secondary left in the cold

By Natalie Sit

Something’s missing in our provincial election. Is it a dominant Tory agenda? Nope. Is it a lack of intelligent discussion? Maybe. Is it a lack of post-secondary issues? Of course.

Let’s face it. A doe-eyed, precocious eight-year-old is more photogenic than a tired, jaded university student. It’s easier to sell the public an image of overcrowded elementary classrooms than a university student working two jobs.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association has primary-yellow ads around town that ask, "Why are Alberta’s classrooms so crowded?" Where are the signs asking why Alberta has the third highest tuition in Canada when the Klein government is rolling in a $7 billion surplus? Yes, the government announced changes to the loan remission program and, yes, the government extended the Jason Lang Scholarship to second and third-year students. But let’s not kid ourselves. The only reason for these goodies is the election. Even our beloved Students’ Union Vice-president External Duncan Wojtaszek said so.

The three main political leaders seem reluctant to address post-secondary issues. Amid the rhetoric on their Web sites, some thought is given to post-secondary education. But K-12 clearly dominates education policy.

But let’s not place all the blame on Ralph, Nancy and Raj. They have to court the entire voting populace. Shouldn’t student leaders haul out protest signs and stir the masses into a tizzy about post-secondary education? During the 1997 provincial election, the SU went door-knocking in Calgary Varsity and distributed signs hawking the value of post-secondary education. Flip to 2001 and there’s nary a peep to be heard. The lack of post-secondary issues isn’t limited to the election; it’s just indicative of how far post-secondary education is from Albertans’ radars.

In order for anything to change in post-secondary, the public must demand it. They certainly care–after electricity deregulation, tax cuts, health care and paying down the debt. But do they know about the chronic underfunding of universities? You and I know; it’s in our faces when we walk down the halls in Science A. The profs, administration and maybe the government know. However, the government will take heed only when Joe Businessman starts wondering why students graduate with massive debt loads.

It’s fair to say most adults have no clue how much tuition is. They remember paying $500 a year and it seems impossible that we pay over $5,000. The post-secondary lobby groups need to expand their focus to the public. It’s hard to give a damn when you don’t know what’s happening.

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