Alberta higher education forum

By Nicole McPhee

The third and final forum in the “Higher Education in Alberta: the 21st Century” series on Tue., March 26 examined challenges and issues affecting post-secondary institutions and students in the near future.

Deputy Minister Maria David-Evans presented the keynote speech called "Post-Secondary Education: Looking Ahead" in Alberta Learning Minister Lyle Oberg’s absence. Student leaders from Mount Royal College, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, and the University of Calgary were present to respond to Evans’ speech.

"The success of higher learning is going to play a very interesting part as we look into the future and we need to try and recognize what that means for us as we try to accommodate the learning needs in the future," opened Evans.

Evans outlined the four key elements in the ideal Alberta Learning System: accessibility, affordability, responsiveness and flexibility, and promoting innovation through technology and research.

"The successes and shortcomings of our post-secondary system will impact all of Alberta and the future of Alberta," she explained. "What can we do to make an already excellent system even better, and continue to stay excellent?"

"I don’t know yet when someone is willing to develop the spine to address the system in the way it needs to be addressed," said MRC Students’ Association Vice-President External Mark Sollis. "In terms of real dollars and value, we’ve seen a decrease in contributions at universities and throughout the system."

U of C Students’ Union President Barb Wright addressed increasing concerns of financial accessibility to post-secondary institutions.

"Predictability of the cost that students will face is one of the greatest concerns students have when going into their education," she noted.

Sollis agreed, quantifying post-secondary education benefits citing a 60 per cent increase in income per year of school attended.

"For every dollar in education that the government invests in they benefit twice as much," he said

Audience members were also concerned about teaching faculty.

"We know we will be losing a significant amount of our skilled instructors to retirement soon," said Evans. "So the question becomes, how are we going to attract and retain these skilled workers?"

"What you say sounds like good political talk but how are the problems really being addressed?" asked Dr. Miloslav Nosal, a U of C statistics professor for 35 years. "How will we attract and retain faculty when other places have 30 per cent higher income than us? How can we compare with U.S. institutions? No one is willing to face the facts."

Doug Shale, mediator and Academic Analyst for the U of C Office of Institutional Analysis, asked the audience to keep post-secondary education in mind.

"Just because the formal program is over tonight, does not mean the debate necessarily ends," he concluded.


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