From March 11th to the 14th, 2003 I had the opportunity to be a part of the first ever National Forum On Post-Secondary Education hosted by the University of Manitoba’s Student Union (UMSU) in Winnipeg. 45 student delegates from all across Canada came to represent their various colleges, technical institutes, and universities in an attempt to learn more about current and future issues facing post-secondary education in Canada.
The importance of the Athabasca University Students’ Union (AUSU) attending this event was immense. Since we represent 27,000 students all across Canada, becoming more aware of individual provincial and federal post-secondary educational issues is important to AUSU. The objective for this forum was to establish post-secondary education (PSE) as a high national priority. UMSU brought in a diverse group of speakers; after each set of speakers the student delegates were assigned to discussion groups where further discussion took place and a brief synopsis of the important issues was compiled. These synopses were presented to the media in a closing plenary session.
The achievements attained at this Forum will be used to educate future student leaders and stakeholders of PSE in Canada and measure set benchmarks for future reference. This will be accomplished by publishing a final report, similar to the white papers recently released by the federal government. The Forum report will serve as a strategic plane for the nation’s student leaders for the next several years, and will be used extensively in lobbying campaigns and during anticipated provincial and federal elections this upcoming year.
(taken from the National Forum on Post-Secondary Education Executive Summary, 2003: http://www.umsu.org/nationalforum/summary.html).
The forum started out on the evening of Tuesday the 11th with a wine and cheese reception. This was an opportunity to meet and greet other delegates as well as receive a welcome from the Mayor of Winnipeg and the President of the University of Manitoba.
The next two days were dedicated to information and discussion of the following topics:
1. Post Secondary Education as a National Priority – Guest Speakers Pat Rowantree, Deputy Minister of Advanced Education and Training for the Province of Manitoba, attempted to address the following points in regards to PSE as a National Priority:
:: Federal vs. Provincial Funding
:: Public Accountability
:: Canadian Council on PSE
Ms. Rowantree gave delegates a background into the PSE institutions offered in Manitoba as well as a brief discussion regarding the University and College of the North that will soon be operating in Northern Manitoba. She also stated that her province spent 350 million on PSE. She believes that the Federal governments should give educational money to the provinces, all the while respecting their autonomy as a provincial jurisdiction. The federal government, according to Rowantree, should not make educational decisions for the entire country because one size does not fit all. What is important in New Brunswick is not necessarily important in other provinces. She continued on to say the Federal government does not always invest wisely in education, using the feds 100 million dollar national database of research as an example. The provinces, she said, would have been able to come up with a more logical and useful way to spend the money.
She also firmly believes in the concept of laddering, where credentials can be increased gradually. For example, in 15 months you can obtain a child care certificate, another year of schooling will give you a diploma, and an additional year will give you a degree. This allows people to enter and exit programs with ease. This concept also recognizes that people do not only make 1 educational decision in their lives – in reality they make many – and it also adheres to the government’s commitment to life-long learning.
Later in the day topic 2 was discussed.
2. Covering the cost of PSE.
:: Private Money
:: Accessibility vs. Quality vs. Excellence
:: Government Responsibility
Ron Daniels, Dean of Law at the University of Toronto, was the first to speak on this topic. He compared the quality of education in the United States to that of Canada. Canada currently contributes approximately $15,000 per student annually while the US contributes $30,000. He also gave examples of the class sizes affecting universities in the States, which average 1 professor to 17 students, to class sizes in Canada, where 1 professor is in charge of 28 students. Professors in the US are paid on average for an entry-level position $150-160,000 Canadian per year, while Canadian entry-level professors are only offered $100,000 yearly. This huge salary chasm between Canada and US post secondary teaching positions, Daniels believes is leaving us with a shortage of professors due to large numbers emigrating to the States, and he also believes that students from the States are receiving a far superior education than Canadians. In order to improve the PSE of Canadians a significant increase in resources needs to be achieved, not just by governments but by students and alumni.
Daniels introduced a system at the U of T law department where students pay a substantial amount for yearly tuition, $14,000 (in 1997 law students at the U of T were paying $2,000 a year!) in order to subsidize those academically capable of entering law school who lack the finances. In 1995 no students were going law school tuition free, now almost 10 years later there are 40 students attending under this program. To me this concept is absurd – a $12,000 increase in tuition yearly per student to send 40 students to school tuition free. I’m not in commerce but I can figure out that it doesn’t seem right to force students to pay an exorbitant increase to fund a small number of students otherwise unable to attend. Daniel’s theory, to me, all boiled down to the notion that students of privilege should pay more to go into careers of privilege, and to justify it, we’ll let unprivileged students in tuition-free; someone needs to take careers in financial aid. And lawyers wonder where they get their bad reputations from?
Following Mr. Daniels was Ron Herron, Member of Parliament for the Fundy-Royal area (New Brunswick). Mr. Herron is a known advocate in Parliament for increasing the accessibility of PSE to all. It is his mission to make PSE a principal plank of the federal economic agenda. Herron spoke of a need for a Federal Education Minister with a student group perspective to interact with provincial education ministers. Mr. Herron was received warmly by the audience when he further suggested that the parental contribution on student loan forms should be drastically adjusted. A family making $55,000 a year is expected to contribute $9,000 a year to their child’s education, not taking into consideration that the Canada Student Loan program has not been modified since 1995 to accommodate cost of living increases. He stressed that student groups should be focusing their lobbying on why PSE is a priority. We as students and parents know why, but what are the repercussions to the average Joe if a PSE becomes attainable only by the elite who are able to keep up with the rising costs.
The second day of discussions started with topic 3:
3. Changing the Delivery of Education
:: Life-Long Learning
:: Learning While Earning
:: Prior Learning Assessment
:: Distance Education
This discussion started with Diane McGifford, Minister of Advanced Education and Training for the Province of Manitoba. In her opening remarks Ms. Gifford called our university a college and welcomed her co-speaker, our own Dr. Judith Hughes, as Judith Grant. It is comical to note that again at the end of the discussion, after Dr. Hughes was introduced and gave her presentation, Ms. McGifford once again addressed Dr. Hughes as Judith Grant. Ms. McGifford, in my opinion, did not seem very informed about the topic she was speaking on. She commented in monotone that we do have to reinvent the wheel in order to keep up with the todayÂ¡Â¦s technology by expanding training in new and innovative ways. Her speech seemed to closely resemble that of the previous day’s speaker Pat Rowantree.
Read next week for more coverage of the First National Forum on Post Secondary Education, including the presentation by AU’s VP External Relations, Judith Hughes.
Sandra Moore is an AUSU councillor, the head of the groups and clubs committee, a mother of two, and a full time AU psychology major. Somehow she finds time to also write for The Voice.