VP external elected to lead lobby group

By Brent Constantin

Students’ Union vice-president external Hardave Birk has added yet another role to his portfolio after being elected chair by the Council of Alberta University Students.

CAUS named Birk as their new chair May 19, a position he will fill for the next year on top of his duties as VP external. Birk will lead CAUS meetings, keep track of members’ assigned tasks and act as the main spokesperson for the organization to both the media and government. Birk will also work with the CAUS budget and oversee day-to-day operations of the organization.

Birk pointed out that much of CAUS’ value comes from the collaboration between its three members, the Universities of Alberta, Calgary and Lethbridge.

“[CAUS] is important to University of Calgary students simply because it’s important to have a unified voice when talking to the ministry,” said Birk. “A lot of the issues that we face here at the U of C are faced at the U of A and the U of L as well, so when we can present a united front on these issues to the minister of advanced education and to the government we are able to lobby much more effectively than maybe if we were to do that by ourselves.”

“Last year when you saw the market modifiers discussion,” said Birk, “CAUS took a very active role in meeting with the minister and saying ‘here is what we think and why we don’t want to see this on our campuses.’ “

Duncan Wojtaszek, CAUS executive director, said that this is the first time in three years a U of C executive has been CAUS chair, but with only three members this election was straightforward.

“Hardave was nominated by Lethbridge and elected unanimously,” said Wojtaszek. “After having the chair at the University of Alberta for two years, we’re really looking forward to seeing representation from Calgary.”

Keith McLaughlin, who joins Birk from the U of L as his vice-chair, said Birk was elected because he is an effective communicator and a strong advocator for affordable, accessible and high quality post-secondary education in Alberta.

“He’s a good choice because he can really outreach to students and hold his own speaking with government officials,” said McLaughlin. “He’s well versed on all the issues and he’s just a great representative for all our 70,000 students.”

Birk said that the extra work will have a significant benefit for U of C students, giving them a direct line to the provincial government, who Birk hopes will respond to his vision for post-secondary.

“There are several goals we have all agreed to. One of the main ones is compulsory fees — we’re really trying to push that one hard to get a regulation put in place,” said Birk. “We’ve also been talking about base operating funding grants at our institutions, we want to see increases to those grants. We’ve also been talking about increased student financial aid, we want to see more non-repayable assistance in the form of bursaries and grants on a need basis, rather than an increase in the amount of loans the government is giving out.”

Ultimately, Birk believes the new role will help him to convince the government that now is the time to invest in post-secondary education. He sees post-secondary as an investment in the future of the province because more educated work force will be paying taxes into the system.

“Every dollar you put into [post-secondary], down the road, all those dollars come back to the government,” said Birk.

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