Canadian Fedwatch! News Across the Nation

April 2, 2003

CLEANING UP AFTER THE UNITED STATES

The Government of Canada has committed 100 million dollars (http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/cida_ind.nsf/852562900065549a85256250006cbb1a/636a2afa0f8e6b1e85256cf400585a09) for humanitarian aid in Iraq. I am terribly torn on this issue. On the one hand, I do not want to advocate not aiding people who are in desperate need, on the other hand why should governments of other countries be paying to clean up the mess made by the United States military in an invasion that neither we, nor the majority of the world community, approved?

Consider what a hundred million dollars could do for post-secondary education. According to Athabasca University’s posted budget numbers (http://www.athabascau.ca/report2002/operat.htm), AU’s entire expenses came to just under 56 million dollars for the year of 2002. With sales of goods and services coming to about 5 million dollars, that same 100 million could completely fund AU for at least two years – probably more if you consider investment profits that would come from the second half of this money.

What this would mean is that for approximately 24,000 students – be they undergraduate or graduate, their courses at AU would be completely free.

If this sounds too good to be true, the government could even attach strings to the funding – each course taken would require a guarantee that you will remain in Canada to live and work for six months. Thus a full degree would require you remain and work in Canada for around 10 years. Imagine the boost this would give to our economy, having a large and steady supply of students graduating across the country and then remaining in the country rather than immediately heading down to the United States.

As a side benefit to this plan, student loan funding would be significantly less, which in turn means less interest gets paid by the government to the banks that have been funding the loans, and that the overhead costs of administering student loans and the number of students being unable to repay their loans would also drop. It would also mean that students would be out of debt and thus able to be more productive in the economy sooner.

The downside to the plan is that it means the people in Iraq would have to rely on the people of United States to clean up their own mess – not something I’d wish on anybody.

FIGHTING THE BRAIN DRAIN

The University of Alberta is considering waiving the tuition (http://www.canada.com/search/story.aspx?id=98c36eb7-f9ee-46d7-8067-498ed944f68e) of all PhD students, even though it already has to deal with a 7.8 million dollar deficit that will undoubtedly be coming from the pockets of the undergraduate student body. Unfortunately, it has little choice, as a similar plan has already been enacted by the University of British Columbia. Similarly, large Universities in the United States are also waiving fees for PhD students and some are offering cash incentives on top of this.

The root cause for all of this is simply that the demand for people with PhD’s for faculty positions is much higher than the current supply.

For us at AU, this means that we can probably expect an increase in the number of post-graduate applications and students – having the prospect of a free PhD education once you’ve attained your Masters might be the key some people need to make them decide to go for it. We can only hope that this increase interest in the Masters programs will translate into more profits for AU which could eventually be turned around and applied to our undergraduate programs. Even if this increase is only in the number of available tutors, students who’ve had the frustrating situation of trying to call during a tutor’s scheduled times and only getting a busy signal would surely welcome it.

PARENTS STARTING TO GET FED UP

For the second time in two weeks, parents are starting to get into the news (http://www.canada.com/search/story.aspx?id=2a2b09ee-e319-457b-b940-b3d9de1b66dc) with their concerns about education funding. This week, it is parents who are questioning why they increasingly have to resort to fund-raising activities just to supply the basic educational needs of their children when the province has recorded surpluses year after year.

Premier Ralph Klein is confused about the uproar, claiming that “There has been a 46 per cent increase [to education funding] over the last six or seven years.” And he may well be right. Unfortunately, he is conveniently forgetting to mention that there was a 47 percent decrease (http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v5n22.html) in real funding in the 17 years before that. It does not take a mathematician to see that if you take 47% of the value away from something, and then add 46% of the new value back, you’re still left with less than you started with.

In fact, when working out the numbers, it becomes plain to see that education has almost a quarter less funding than it did 25 years ago, even though the need for education is greater today than it has been at any point in our history.

So the real surprise isn’t that parents are starting to get fed up – it’s that it’s taken them this long.

CHANGE IN DIRECTION

Some of you may have noticed that Canadian Fedwatch is starting to move away from just the provincial and federal news releases. I have been increasingly trying to focus my efforts on education related materials, and the sad truth of the matter is, there just isn’t that much going on in our governments when it comes to education. As a result, it seems I have become a bit of a broken record.

So maybe it is time to change the direction of Fedwatch. Possibilities include branching out into a more varied selection of politics, staying with education but expanding more into university press releases as well, moving more to a general opinion/editorial column on news and politics, or maybe something else that you think would be more interesting.

Write the editor and let her know where your interests for Fedwatch lie. This is your student magazine after all, it should reflect the things that matter to you.

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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