Alberta students push back

By Chris Beauchamp

Student groups from across the province are banding together to stress the importance of post-secondary education.

The students’ associations from the University of Calgary, the University of Alberta and the University of Lethbridge launched simultaneous press conferences on their respective campuses Tue., Sep. 6 to highlight their concerns about the ongoing provincial review of PSE.

“Our intent is to get our issues out there and get people talking about post-secondary,” said U of C Students’ Union President Bryan West, while addressing media in MacEwan Student Centre. “Students are worried many are being excluded from this process.”

The province launched a steering committee earlier this summer to review Alberta’s PSE system. The committee, titled A Learning Alberta, includes 14 prominent Albertans, but no direct student or faculty representation.

The campaign is being coordinated by the Council of Alberta University Students, and calls for a number of recommendations to the steering committee, including replacing the Alberta Student Loan Program with a non-repayable grant system. The system would be based solely on financial need. West likened the proposal to systems currently in use in Britain.

Alberta Advanced Education Minister Dave Hancock said the proposal may have merit.

“I’ve often wondered whether we should be loaning money on a provincial basis,” said Hancock, noting the province usually remits a large amount of what students owe, making loans a form of grant anyway. “The bottom line is, we need to be thinking outside the box.”

CAUS is also recommending an increase in base operating funding to be the highest in the country, a new tuition policy that would limit institutions’ abilities to maximize fees and the support of a new dedicated federal transfer payment to the provinces for advanced education.

The campaign’s leaders are ultimately pushing for more say in the process.

“Without our input we can’t put much credibility in this process,” said SU Vice-President External and CAUS Chair Jen Smith, stressing her belief that student input is being ignored as just another special interest group.

Hancock disagreed.

“I’m sorry if they think nothing is being done, but we’ve done everything we could to make sure stakeholder input is being taken into account,” said Hancock, noting student input will be considered during roundtable sessions and consultations this fall. “A steering committee can’t be an advocacy centre, it needs to be a steering centre. The committee wasn’t set up to be representative.”

Plans include a $24,000 radio and TV ad campaign to be jointly payed for by the student organizations.

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