A rose by any other name

At first glance, Danielle Smith’s recent appearance at the University of Calgary to discuss the prospects of post-secondary education seemed promising. But after a closer look at the language of her speech and the policy booklet handed out, the reality begins to set in.

Though Smith and the Wildrose Party promised the world to students, the discussion lacked any solid qualifiers or goals. At the end of the day, it’s just another politician pandering to students– a scene that happens all too often.

Smith appeared at the U of C this week to deliver a speech on the party’s new plan for addressing advanced education. The plan’s three fundamental goals include increased affordability, accessibility and local impact of Alberta-based research.

The Wildrose Party addressed the first of these goals by promising loan forgiveness for graduates of high demand fields who remain in Alberta. Their policy document states that they will “restore the limit on post-secondary tuition fee increases to the rate of inflation.”

The party also plans to review the student loan application process to make sure it is able to provide for the basic living needs of students and remove parental income as a factor in deterring eligibility for student loans.

These goals sound good in theory but reality is a different matter. Forgiving the loans of graduates who remain in Alberta becomes problematic when you don’t specify how much you will forgive or the time line on which you will forgive it. Why not reduce the cost of the education up front? A successful and vibrant province should attract graduates with its culture, environment and low education costs, not hold them hostage.

Smith says she will “crack down on post-secondary tuitions charging excessive non-instructional fees”– another particularly ambiguous statement. Neither “crack down” nor “excessive” are explained in the rest of her speech or the documents outlining her platform and she definitely doesn’t say that the fees will be eliminated entirely. Smith must make her intentions more clear.

Ensuring that student loans enable students to meet basic living needs is admirable, but once again, Smith hasn’t promised students anything concrete. Is the Wildrose Party going to ensure a certain quality of life for students? How will it be measured? How will it be implemented?

The rest of the document is equally ambiguous. It states that the party will expand space for high demand research degrees, coordinate with post-secondary schools to improve the transfer of credits and implement tax incentives to promote the growth of post-secondary endowment funds for scholarships, but does not go into specific detail. The lack of statistics and specifics stand out.

It’s great that Smith is paying attention to students but Stelmach’s government has already stated that the Wildrose Party is just repackaging their ideas. The Conservatives have already tied tuition increases to inflation and rejected some proposals for market modifers that they viewed as excessive last year. If Smith wants her party to be the conservative alternative that can stand up to Ed Stelmach, she must do more to differentiate her policies and explain specifically what she will do differently, which will also help in holding the party accountable to its prescribed goals in the future.

The unfortunate reality is that Smith hasn’t committed to doing anything concrete. Students are used to politicians making promises and then breaking them when convenient. Smith should at least make some solid promises that she can be held accountable to.

. . the Gauntlet Editorial Board

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