Not good enough

By ├ćndrew Rininsland

In direct contrast to the rhetoric provided by Hancock and the A Learning Alberta steering committee at the forum this week, Public Interest Alberta released their “Post-Secondary Education Report Card,” a report detailing the findings of the survey and consultations at universities across the province.

“I had a lot of very positive comments [about the report card] from all sorts of different people throughout the post-secondary education sector, from vice-presidents of universities to various administration and business people talking about it,” said PIA Chairman Bill Moore-Kilgannon.

“What we were trying to do was infuse the conference with the reality the average Albertan is facing and the types of questions they’re having to make in terms of post-secondary education,” he said. “The report card was just a reflection of peoples’ comments and to ground the debate, to move it from that 30,000 foot principled view down to ‘Okay, will this, at the end of the day, mean that students that are graduating be able to get better post-secondary education? Will they be able to get into post-secondary education? Will they be able to afford post-secondary education?’”

The 20-page report is the result of eight regional public hearings and contains survey data from 237 individuals. It gives the provincial government a D-grade on funding, accessibility, and quality, an F-grade on affordability, and is critical of the government’s decision to make the official consultations invitation-only.

Also critical of the process was New Democratic Party Advanced Education Critic Raj Pannu.

“[The government consultations] were very vague and very abstract,” said Pannu, who also sat on the PIA panel when it visited the University of Calgary earlier last month. “If it is about changing the system we have, we ought to start with an analysis of the system and what’s wrong with it. It seems there’s no attention paid in the deliberations as to where the system is deficient and where it needs to go. It’s very abstract and very out of touch with the reality of the system.”

Liberal Education Critic Dave Taylor echoed this sentiment, saying some short- and medium-term fixes need to be implemented, namely the re-engineering of the student loan system. As well, he mentioned that immediate action needs to be taken by the provincial government to prevent the potential upcoming tuition ‘double-bump’ from adversely affecting students.

“Over the short-term, at the very least, the government needs to put in, on an ongoing, sustainable basis, not only the $43 million they put in this year to cover the tuition rebate, but they need to put in that and more in terms of base operating grants, so they can hold the line on tuition for two to five years until we truly have a good, well thought-out tuition policy we can act on that will carry us through the next several decades,” said Taylor, clearly out of breath.

Moore-Kilgannon agreed.

“The minister just said that while he’s going to come up with the tuition policy in the spring, students should prepare for a tuition increase in 2006,” he said. “The challenge is that he seems to be pitting the question of accessibility and quality against the cost of tuition. We can’t just come out of this forum and say we’re going to continue on the same wrong path of putting all the costs on the students and their families because we need to increase accessibility. The Premier of this province said we’d have the lowest tuition rates in the country, and the minister just reversed that.”

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