Student leaders holding their breath

Student representatives are holding their breath after a post-secondary education and skills summit last week, with high hopes it caught the attention of the federal government.

The Council of the Federation, which represents governments of the 10 provinces and three territories, assembled on Feb. 24 in Ottawa to host a conference for education stakeholders from across the country. This is a step forward for the COFs goal to shape a nation-wide strategy for improving post-secondary education and skills training.

Students’ Union VP external Jen Smith said funding was a recurring theme of discussions. She hopes student groups’ lobbying will be successful to restore post-secondary education transfer payments to 1994-95 levels, prior to federal government cuts.

“I think this is a good year of opportunity,” said Smith, considering the potential for federal re-investment. “It’s time to take a serious look at post-secondary education.”

Federal transfers in support of post-secondary education and social programs were $10.6 billion in 1994-95 and have decreased to $8.4 billion today.

The provincial government is echoing a similar sentiment.

“My hope is that this summit will result in nation-wide momentum towards a stronger focus on advanced learning and skills training, including more support from the federal government,” said advanced education minister Dave Hancock in a statement prior to the meeting.

Hancock represented the provincial government in Ottawa, and was accompanied by 34 other Alberta stakeholders from post-secondary institutions, business, labour, and community learning programs. Premier Ralph Klein, who chairs the COF, was not in attendance.

Other groups present did more than just demand increased funding.

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations released a three-point plan for post-secondary reform calling for a pan-Canadian accord on post-secondary education, establishment of dedicated federal transfer payments, and a review of Canada’s student financial assistance system.

Alberta Advanced Education called for a first ministers conference between the provincial and territorial premiers and the Prime Minister to lobby the federal government for increased transfer payments.

“The next step is to hold a first ministers conference, potentially in the summer of this year,” said Alberta Advanced Education spokesperson Angela Balec. “But we expect to see continued open discussion.”

However, students will have to wait to determine whether the summit will result in tangible action.

“The conference was a good place for discussion, but we’d like to see results sooner rather than later,” said Smith.

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