BUDGET HISTORY: Cover story: Flip of the Klein

By Patcick Lindsay

The provincial government is going to reinvest in post-secondary education… sort of.

Yesterday afternoon Ralph Klein, at a meeting with provincial student leaders, announced that he will not back down on next year’s three per cent cut to education. However, he did say the Alberta government will invest in education sometime in the near future.

“We got a commitment from the government that they are going to investigate the possibility of reinvestment into certain strategic areas of education: faculty recruitment and retention; infrastructure; things like labs and libraries; and technology,” said Garett Poston, University of Alberta Students’ Union president. “The premier indicated he felt there were still three per cent of saving to be made from post-secondary education. We made the point that the cut will just decreased quality and increase tuition. That’s something the government will have to look at, and he said they will.”

On top of promising he would reinvest in education, Klein agreed to meet again with students in two months to review the progress towards reinvestment. According to Kate Kimberley, University of Calgary SU President, those two elements made the meeting a positive one.

“I think we received a clear message that this government is concerned with education,” said Kimberley. “It’s a good first step, but there’s a lot of work ahead. And we still want to work to convince the premier not to go through with the three per cent cut.”

According to U of C President Murray Fraser and U of C Vice-President (Finance) Keith Winter, the three per cent cut scheduled for next year will be the most devastating to the U of C. The promise to reinvest by the premier may be useful in the future, but it does nothing to help the current budget crunch.

“We didn’t get everything we wanted, but I’m happy coming out of this meeting with something,” said Kimberley.

Although some student leaders speculated that this meeting would just be a public relations boost for the premier, Kimberley said it was extremely important to post-secondary education in this province. She said that now it is evident that Klein is willing to listen. Lynn Duncan, deputy minister of advanced education, who also attended the meeting, agreed.

“It was a constructive meeting,” said Duncan. “It’s positive that students had an opportunity to explain their concerns, wishes, and expectations. And the premier had a chance to ask questions and find out where they are coming from… he learned the interest students have in reinvestment and where they think it should be targeted.”

If the meeting was positive for advanced education in general, then it was even more positive for the U of C, according to Kimberley.

“The U of C has a unique situation. With many of the staff taking early retirement next year… there may be positive news coming for the U of C,” said Kimberley.

Although the SU is hoping for good news, in the form of the government canceling the next three per cent cut, they’re not just sitting and waiting to hear from the premier. Starting next week the SU will participate in a province-wide education awareness campaign.

“We’re going to hit them hard. We’re going to make the campus and community aware of the value of post-secondary education in this province,” said Lance Kayfish, SU vice-president (external). Kayfish added that the campaign will include radio commercials, bus stop posters, and at least one education rally.

When the students told Klein about the upcoming campaign, Poston said the premier was “very interested and encouraging.”

Klein was unavailable for comment immediately after the meeting.