Cannon addresses students on public policies

By Sarah Dorchak

University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon was the first speaker in the School of Public Policy Students’ Association lecture series Jan. 20. Cannon focused her address on how public policies impact university procedures and, as a result, students.

“Policy implications that we are living with and have to deal with can be a help [and] can be a hindrance,” said Cannon. “It’s our role to work within our policy framework and build the best university that we can be.”

Cannon said government mandates and policy framework help to distinguish the U of C from other institutions, but the university’s reputation is based on a lot more.

“We also need to consider the expectations of our community both internal and external,” she said.

Any policy implementation should be aimed toward generating pride and respect for the university from the community, faculty and students, Cannon said. In terms of budget policies, transparency and stewardship were what Cannon saw as the key to keeping the community’s support.

“We are not a business, nor do we want to be,” Cannon said. “But we are a steward of public funds and as such we need to ensure that we rest on a very solid foundation of business processes.”

“With those processes in place, it can allow us to focus on what we do well, and that’s teaching and research.”

In her address, Cannon focused on three main policies that directly impact the university’s structure and operating budget — government investment, tuition policy and internal accountability. According to Cannon, each of these policies comes with its own problems.

“The government is looking for tangible examples to show the public that investing in research and development makes sense, that these investments will translate into economic growth,” said Cannon.

Cannon said tuition increases were another influence on universities. Since 2004, the Alberta tuition policy has regulated tuition increases to the consumer price index which measures inflation.

“If you look at the current CPI, it is much less than one per cent, that’s about $10 per course,” said Cannon. “That’s got an upside of limiting tuition growth, which is good for students.”

“The problem from the institution perspective is that costs within the institution go up faster than CPI.”

Cannon said operating costs that cannot be covered by tuition must find other funding sources.

According to Statistics Canada, Alberta’s CPI fell by 0.1 per cent last year due to the recession. To counteract the subsequent effects a lowered tuition would have to their projected financial plans, universities applied to the provincial government for a market modified increase resulting in increases to the Bachelor of Commerce and Masters in Business Administration programs.

The last policy Cannon addressed related to changing accountabilities regarding research grants within the university.

“Being a publicly funded institution, it’s expected that we are held accountable for the investments made in us,” said Cannon. “However, the levels of accountability have increased significantly.”

Cannon said indirect costs like lighting and heating take up 40 per cent of research grants.

“There’s a bit of a gap between our actual costs and what we’re given, so we need to make up the difference in our operating budget,” Cannon said. “A policy framework that balances the need for stewardship and transparency for the associated costs must be struck, so our research programs are sustainable.”

Throughout her address, Cannon related policy issues to the students of the new School of Public Policy to help illustrate the planning issues that the university faces.

“A discussion about our future starts with our mandate as an institution,” said Cannon. “We want to ensure that we’re well aligned, that we’ve set the bar high, and have ambitions in front of us and work together towards that common goal.”

The next lecture to be held will feature Major General Cameron Ross on Feb. 3rd, who will discuss future military security policies and challenges.

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