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February 26, 2003

Budgeting For Graduates

The Annual Federal Budget has been released, and as always we find there is good news and bad news. (See:

In the good news, we find that the federal government is actually paying some attention to the need for post-secondary education. Over 1.3 billion dollars more this year have been set out for research, scholarships, and student aid programs.

If you are a graduate student, this is really good news, as most of that money is going toward grants for research projects, one-time loans for graduate students, scholarships for graduate students and building research facilities for, you guessed it, graduate students.

If you are an undergraduate student however, the benefits are mostly restricted to an increase in the amount you can earn before the money starts being taken from your student loan. In other words, the government is generously allowing you to take on a higher work-load in addition to your courses if you happen not be getting enough to get by. In fact, out of that 1.3 billion dollars only 60 million dollars is pointed at the student loans program, and most of this amount was granted because the federal government is now allowing refugees to seek student aid.

Unfortunately, it seems Finance Minister Manley’s earlier speeches about the importance of lowering tuition was mostly talk. Once again we see that supporting research is seen as one and the same as supporting post-secondary education. Yet the two are only related in that a lot of research happens to go on in post-secondary institutions. Funding research simply does not do anything to make education more affordable for the students who need it most.

Taking a look at other areas of the budget, we see that, as expected, health care was the big winner. New expenditures on health care take up over half of the total amount of money the government put forward on new spending. I understand the reasoning behind this, but it always makes me angry to think that if even a small portion of these funds were devoted to making higher education cheaper, the long-term benefits would be worth far more than the cost.

Money put into health care is not generally an investment that will pay back economically. Money put into education almost always is.

Alberta’s Throne Speech

It has been a busy month for the Alberta Government, home of AU and responsible in many ways for what we all end up paying to get our education. This week, the Government made their Speech from the Throne.(See:

You might expect that, in keeping with previous weeks, post-secondary education received no mention whatsoever. Wonder of wonders, that expectation would turn out to be wrong.

Post-secondary education is in fact mentioned in the Throne Speech. It is mentioned in a single paragraph that is more ominous for Athabasca University students than any amount of silence could be:

The government will also take steps to strengthen the post-secondary education system to promote lifelong learning. Legislation will be introduced this session to enable the adult learning system to better anticipate and respond to future economic and workforce trends and needs.

On first read, this sounds like promising news. However, it does not take much examination of the Alberta Government’s actions to realize that life-long learning is much more likely to mean apprenticeships and trade certifications than university or college education. In addition, legislation enabling adult learning to be more responsive to economic and workforce trends implies that the government may be considering moving funding more to a per-student basis.

The difficulty with a strict per-student basis for funding is that it perforce encourages post-secondary institutions to get rid of unpopular programs, so as to maximize their revenue while minimizing their output. This means that some very important programs of study such as aboriginal studies, woman’s studies, pure maths, or even history could end up being downsized or outright eliminated. It means that those avenues of study would become increasingly difficult to follow, even if some major advance to our society lay unseen in that direction.

In short, it reduces universities and colleges to high-class trade schools as opposed to the institutions of higher learning that they are supposed to be.

A native Calgarian, Karl is perpetually nearing the completion of his Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Information Studies. He also works for the Computer Sciences Virtual Helpdesk for Athabasca University and plans to eventually go on to tutor and obtain his Master’s Degree.

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