Students and faculty campaign for PSE

By Cam Cotton-O’Brien

Pretty much the opposite of the one time your little brother ratted you out for forcing him to eat the snow you just peed in, the Students’ Union is trying to tell your parents something: use next week’s election to make PSE a vibrant institution in Alberta. The University of Calgary Students’ Union has teamed up with other post-secondary stakeholders to give a message to your folks.

The Imagine Alberta campaign is an attempt to get the issue of post-secondary education placed near the top of the provincial election agenda. There are five different groups participating, representing approximately 210,000 undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty.

“The idea of the current campaign is to target parents both of current and future students,” said U of C SU vice-president external Mike Selnes. “They’re a group that votes and has a vested interest in an affordable and high-quality, post-secondary education system.”

Council of Alberta University Students executive director Duncan Wojtaszek noted that though parents are the target group, it is hoped that the campaigns message is broad enough that it appeals to all Albertans.

The campaign involves a website, radio and T.V. ads and five billboards across the province. The three key points of Imagine Alberta are accessibility, quality and affordability. Getting people to make PSE an issue and vote is the objective.

“Ultimately all of it comes down to funding and political will,” said Wojtaszek. “If politicians see Albertans wanting change, they’re going to do it regardless of political stripe.”

The campaign is similar to Wise Up, an attempt to raise the importance of PSE during the 2004 election that has been viewed as extremely successful. Following the campaign the three ridings with post-secondary institutions in them that had been traditionally Conservative voted Liberal.

“We ran a similar campaign and we found that we were very successful at making post-secondary education a provincial election issue,” said Selnes.

The U of C SU is a key member of CAUS. Selnes mentioned that approximately $120,000 has gone into the campaign, roughly $25,000-30,000 coming from the U of C SU.

“That money came from both a quality money application, as well as a provincial election reserve fund,” said Selnes. “It was a [now-former] student’s idea to create a $20,000 provincial election war chest.”

Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations executive director John Nicholls noted that PSE was an issue that should have broad appeal, as PSE might be the solution to a number of other problems being felt in the province.

“Post-secondary education in a way is one of those all-embracing issues that can tie up many of the other concerns that voters may have,” said Nicholls.

He discussed the potential of PSE, through its training of skilled individuals, to deal with issues like the environment and the shortage of medical professionals.

The SU is also trying to get students to vote. Selnes explained the SU was putting on events all week and that they aimed at providing all the information that student’s would need to vote. He also expressed concern about the new regulations for students voting, noting it may lead to a reduction in student voters. After the election, the SU will work with the new government to make sure that PSE remains an important issue.

“We will look at who wins the election and see what priorities their party had in regards to post-secondary and push to ensure that they implement all the promises they made during the election,” said Selnes. “On top of that, we’ll continue to advocate for the necessary changes that we see as needed in Alberta’s post-secondary system.”

The Imagine Alberta website includes a series of five questions that parties were asked. At the time of writing not all parties had responded, but it is a valuable tool to determine their stance on PSE.

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