Funding for thousands of new students

By Sarelle Azuelos

A huge post-secondary edu cation funding announcement made last Friday left Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Bow Valley College and the University of Calgary with thousands of new spaces for students.

The announcement at SAIT, totaling $425 million, had a strong technology and trade focus. SAIT will receive $300 million, BVC will receive $119 million and the U of C up to $5 million annually.

“You’re wondering, $425 million sounds like a lot of money, but what does it really amount to?” said Alberta premier Ed Stelmach. “It means that here at SAIT, we’ll be able to add 3,600 student spaces. It’s more than doubling SAIT’s capacity in specific trades and programs.”

Fifteen hundred of those new spaces will accommodate 6,000 new apprenticeships each year.

The money will be used to help build the Trades and Technology Complex which is scheduled to be completed in 2012. The building will be about 600,000 square feet and cost $445 million to complete. The additional money needed will come from the private sector, $26 million of which has already been raised.

“We have been working with our government, our business and our industry partners ever since [opening in 1916],” said SAIT’s president Irene Lewis, adding that there are now 150,000 alumni working in 50 countries around the world. “There are 12 young Afghani women that have just completed an online training program. With their SAIT credentials in hand, they have all launched careers themselves with many times the average income in their country.”

SAIT enjoys a 97 per cent employment rate for graduates. Lewis said a “cry” from industry for more skilled workers was obvious.

“It’s no doubt the students that get their training here at SAIT are in such tremendous demand,” said Stelmach. “As the population has increased over the years, there’s no doubt about it, we’re trying to catch up with the needs.”

U of C vice-president external relations Roman Cooney said the $5 million will go towards identifying a site to use as the downtown campus. They are looking at about six options, all within five blocks of the downtown core.

“We think we’ll be able to add about 100,000 square feet,” said Cooney. “That would translate into space for between 400 to 500 new full-time students, but because it’s the downtown campus, the provost thinks that we’ll be able to at least offer programs to about one in five students.”

Cooney said the $5 million annually will be used for the next 20 years, but Alberta advanced education and technology minister Doug Horner said the commitment depends on the university’s proposals.

“From the U of C’s perspective, the downtown campus will be an expansion of what they’ve been piloting– getting students to work in actual businesses and the downtown core at the same time as taking their studies,” said Horner.

Cooney explained many students in nursing, social work and art programs already learn downtown at Salvation Army, the YMCA and the Epcor Centre.

“The question is, what can we do that is another dimension to a student’s educational experience,” asked Cooney. “We’ve seen interest from, I’d say, half a dozen faculties to offer their students at least some part of their program in downtown.”

There is no deadline for the project yet, but Cooney said it could be ready as early as 2011 or 2012 if the cost-benefit analysis suggests creating a new space would be the best option.

As for the focus on technology and trade, both Horner and Cooney point to recent funding announcements specifically aimed at the U of C.

“There’s probably a very large number of construction projects ongoing at the U of C,” said Horner. “All you have to do is go outside and look around the campus, there’s lots of cranes.”

He referred to the $260 million for the Environment and Experiential Learning building announced last July, the $97.1 million for the Taylor Family Digital Library and the $64 million for the faculty of veterinary medicine from 2006.

A study completed by the province identified that Calgary technical institutes, as well as educational centres for older students, had the highest number of students turned away. This also affected the direction of the funding.

BVC attracts many students looking to upgrade or complete programs in health care, English as a second language and business and administration.

“We’ll be doing more in those general areas,” said BVC president and CEO Sharon Carry. “We’ll also be looking for more and different opportunities just as every institution does as they emerge. We had planned on 2,100 seats and this announcement gave us an extra 1,400.”

She added the funding will also allow for a better bookstore, aboriginal centre, international centre and a second daycare centre. BVC is currently in the first phase of its construction to upgrade its existing facilities. The second phase will be built across the street and connected via the Plus-15 system.

Stelmach confirmed that all the funding was part of a 20-year strategic capital plan and not taken from other budgets.

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