Same Old, Same Old
It seems every week the same things happen across Canada. Provincial Governments such as British Columbia, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, as well as the Federal Government (see end of story for links) all put hundreds of thousands if not millions into boosting research activities of Canadian Universities, and basically nothing into making education easier to access for underprivileged students.
Every week I rail about this lack of true forward thinking. I point out things like the well- documented shortage of professors that we will soon be facing, or how post-secondary educated citizens cost the governments less in social programs and make them more money in taxes. I write about how investing in big building projects could be changed to more affordable distance education methods, and how buildings are generally money losing propositions, while technology infrastructure that enables distance education can be a money-making venture by using it for businesses as well. I show how tuition and debt increases adversely affect the chances of low-income students even going to University in the first place, and how people stuck in a low-income situation are also people who statistically cost the government the most in social programs.
I can understand this somewhat on the part of the Federal Government, as research is the only area they are allowed to directly fund when it comes to Universities, otherwise they have to give the money to the provinces and let each province decide where it’s going to go.
But for the Provinces to be doing this is nearly criminal. Consider that it would cost only eight million dollars to implement a tuition freeze at the University of Alberta. Instead, the government raised the amount going to the university by only 2%, which is less than inflation, and expects the university to make up any shortfall. The university is experiencing increasing enrolment, and is prohibited by legislation from running a deficit, so guess where the extra money they require is going to come from? I say it is nearly criminal because Alberta’s own figures show that 44% of high school graduates who are not going on to post-secondary give the cost as the main reason.
Yet each week it’s the same thing. The country is trying to deal with a shortage of researchers by enticing those from other countries to live here, rather than signing deals with our own citizens to get them to become researchers and stay. The provinces are trying to deal with a shortage of student spaces by creating buildings instead of distance education infrastructure. The provinces are trying to deal with low-income people by… well.. they’re not really. They seem to be hoping that if they can just keep the economy going long enough, the low-income earners will magically start getting paid better incomes, despite not having affordable opportunities to improve their skills.
Premier Klein is apparently a student of Athabasca University; you’d think he’d be interested enough to read his university’s newspaper. As it is, sometimes I wonder why I bother.
Recent government research grants:
A Ray Of Hope
Though things seem bleak for the state of Canada’s post-secondary education system in general, there is one province that seems to have clued in. The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador has realized that education is the best insurance against economic downturns, and they’re using Canada’s current prosperity to start building that insurance up.
The recent Throne Speech (http://www.gov.nf.ca/releases/2003/exec/0319n01.htm) of Newfoundland and Labrador had a focus on education that is better than any that I have seen across Canada. Among the things that the province is doing include moving their entire high-school curriculum to an e-learning format, so that no matter where a student is, there will be access to a high-school education, even if the government doesn’t happen to have the money to build a new high-school in an area. As it is, the government is not skimping on that front either, building 23 new schools and renovating 49 others. They are maintaining the best pupil-teacher ratio in Canada for kindergarten to grade 3 students at only 13.5 pupils for every teacher. They are reducing, not increasing, not holding steady, but reducing post-secondary tuition by 25% over the course of their term in government.
Their reward for this? They have been cited as the province with the fastest growing economy in the country by major banks. Their GDP growth rate has tripled in the last two years. Part of this depends on where you come from, of course, it’s easy to grow quickly from small numbers, but it is still an encouraging sign.
Personally, I wish Newfoundland and Labrador all the success in the world, if only so that other Provinces start looking to them and realizing that we can no longer simply pay lip-service to a knowledge based economy, we actually have to promote it by ensuring that our citizens have the knowledge to compete in it.
Fun With Lyle
Alberta’s Minister of Education, Lyle Oberg, was recently heckled (http://edmonton.cbc.ca/template/servlet/View?filename=ed_oberg20030318) by a concerned parent. She says that she “grew tired of hearing Oberg deny there is a funding problem in the province’s schools”. If he is denying it, I can see why she’d grow tired quickly, especially when you read the February 27th report by the CBC (http://edmonton.cbc.ca/template/servlet/View?filename=ed_oberg20030227) about how Mr. Oberg says he will consider allowing the Edmonton Public School system to run a deficit if there is no more money to be saved. How he could consider allowing our public school system to run a deficit not to be a funding problem is beyond me.
For some more interesting quotes from Mr. Oberg, we need look no further than our own government Public Accounts Committee reports. If you go to http://www.assembly.ab.ca/pro/pac-sim.asp and choose the Wednesday, March 5, 2003 Public Accounts Committee Meeting (they unfortunately make it impossible to directly link to the minutes) you’ll be able to see Mr. Oberg in action.
Some of the choice quotes include when he says, “The average financial assistance awarded to postsecondary students increased to $7,577. The target of at or above $7, 200 was met.” It seems peculiar to me that our government would actually have a target of “at or above” when it comes to student financial assistance. Why is student debt considered acceptable while government debt is not?
Another choice quote is Mr. Oberg declaring that “we also met our target with respect to learners being well prepared for work, as evidenced by the employment rate of postsecondary graduates at an impressive 93 percent.” It’s strange that he’s proud of an employment rate of 93% when the unemployment rate (http://www.statcan.ca/english/Pgdb/labor07c.htm) for the province is only 5.3%. 1.7% may not be a lot of difference, but it is certainly not a reason to be crowing.
In short, Mr. Oberg’s term as Learning Minister has been disastrous to the funding of our post-secondary education system. We can see from these quotes that this is not merely a mistake, but a result of his actual outlook on the education system – “at or above”?
He should consider himself lucky he has only been heckled the once.
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.