The crisis of accountability

By Вen Li

It’s easy to become euphoric at Premier Ralph Klein’s announcement of massive funding increases to post-secondary education. Student leaders, educators and newspapers editorialists alike have all but soiled themselves in joy and self-congratulation since Tuesday at the students’ perceived victory. More difficult will be teasing out actual results from Klein’s Tuesday address.

Universities, colleges and trade schools in Alberta only accepted 13,200 of 42,000 qualified applicants last year. There are 140,000 students in the post-secondary education system right now. The 15,000 student spaces to be added in the next three years still leaves up to 27,000 students per year without places to go. Assuming (erroneously) no growth in demand for PSE, current demands on PSE will barely be met six years from now when a total of 30,000 new student spaces are added.

The Premier’s announcement also failed to address the immediate problem. It does not halt the loss of experienced instructors and support staff from post-secondary institu- tions still facing drastic budget cuts Despite the desires of post-secondary institutions and the government, it may soon become exceedingly difficult to recruit and retain the personnel to maintain the new student spaces if educators can only see a gloomy future of cuts and personnel loss due to attrition. How many new places for graduate students will be added to run undergraduate labs, tutorials and otherwise support instructors and to become the professors of the future?

Nothing has yet been announced that would indicate how support staff and instructors are expected to cope with the increased student load. While having thousands of new student spaces in ATCO trailers is better than no new student spaces, three years is hardly enough time to plan and construct the prerequisite infrastructure. Bill 1, the Premier’s PSE promise, will hopefully address these issues when it comes before the Legislature this spring.

And despite lofty plans for the future, increases to core funding to universities are needed right now to cope with the crisis resulting from a decade of cuts. If this plan has any chance to succeed, a meteoric rise in core funding is needed to accompany the $43 million tuition relief for 2005 promised by Advanced Education Minister Dave Hancock on Wednesday. Although Klein announced the release of a “new tuition policy for the 21st century”, nothing is yet in place to address the cumulative 15 per cent tuition increase from 2004’s tuition levels students will face in September 2006 as a result of this year’s tuition freeze.

Still, students’ concerns were heard and their combined lobbying efforts with institutions, educators, opposition parties and parents garnered four minutes of attention in the Premier’s address. Let’s hope the fight for the credit doesn’t distract from the long battle ahead to hold the government to its word.

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