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AUSU VP External Now CAUS Chair

THE VOICE: 1993 – 2003 10 YEARS AS YOUR STUDENT NEWSPAPER

THIS WEEK

Just CAUS: Newly appointed CAUS Chair and VP of AUSU, Shirley Barg, starts a new column to inform you of what is happening with post-secondary education in Alberta. Expect coverage of government policy changes, funding issues, and CAUS initiatives throughout the province. If you are a post-secondary student, you can’t afford to not know what’s going on.

Science, Chemistry, Research and AU Students: Debbie Jabbour concludes her coverage of the WCUCC Conference, and asks why similar conferences do not exist for students in other research-oriented disciplines.

The Transfer: The Conclusion of our first fiction instalment by Carolyn Vaughan.

College vs University? Rising tuition costs and new trends in education are making this question more important than ever. Shahzadi Bhatti explores the differences between college and university, and finds that sometimes the best decision is to utilize both types of school to save costs and increase your options.

AUSU VP EXTERNAL NOW CAUS CHAIR

Two weeks ago The Voice announced that Athabasca University Students’ Union [AUSU] (http://www.ausu.org) Vice-President External Shirley Barg was elected Chair of the Council of Alberta University Students [CAUS] (http://www.su.ucalgary.ca/caus/alpha/index.html) . This week I spoke with Shirley to find out more about her new position, and what it means for AU students.

Shirley will be continuing as AUSU VP External, because she feels that her position with CAUS is complementary of her position with AUSU. As VP External, a large part of Shirley’s job is to work with government and students’ organizations – particularly in Alberta – and to remain aware of changes to government and university policies which affect students. Since CAUS is the primary post-secondary students organization in Alberta, and because they work to directly influence government policy affecting post-sec students, their mandate in many ways overlaps that of the VP External. In fact, Shirley has already been working with CAUS for over two years through her involvement with AUSU. Shirley also wants to stress that while CAUS is specifically working for university students in Alberta, what they do will affect AU students across the country and around the world because changes to education policy will affect the services that AU offers, and the cost of being an AU student. Therefore the CAUS position has a much wider scope than to simply improve the situation of Alberta students.

One unique feature of AUSU has meant that Shirley also has a unique position within CAUS – she is beginning her third year with the organization, where most members only serve a single year. This is because most university students’ associations serve only one year terms, whereas AUSU councillors serve for two years. Shirley took on the role of acting VP External with AUSU prior to the last AUSU election, and at that time she became involved with CAUS. Now, as the elected VP External, she’s continuing her work with CAUS from the unique perspective of someone who has much more experience working with government organizations and representing post secondary students than many other CAUS members.

Shirley is a unique students’ representative in another way: next year she will celebrate her 50th birthday, but she continues to work alongside students of all ages, many of whom are younger than her youngest daughter. Shirley not only understands the challenges facing the ever-growing numbers of mature students in Alberta, but she also understands the struggles of parents who must make significant sacrifices to send their children to school.

Shirley is not the only one with a long association with CAUS – AUSU itself became a member of CAUS in 1993, very shortly after AUSU was formed. CAUS itself has existed since 1986, although it began under another name and originally represented colleges and technical schools as well as universities. Eventually it became clear that the colleges and tech schools often had different needs from universities, and so the Alberta College and Technical Institute Students’ Executive Council [ACTISEC] (http://www.actisec.ca/) was formed, and CAUS began representing post-secondary students only. Times have changed, however, and Shirley notes that in the past few years CAUS has again begun to work more closely with ACTISEC as students in all levels of the education sector have begun to feel the crunch of reduced education funding and rising tuition.

I asked Shirley a few questions about the direction that she will be taking with CAUS, and how her new position will affect AU students:

How do you feel that your new position as CAUS Chair will benefit students of Athabasca University?

“In the last year I have been working hard to advance the concerns of students of Distance Education [DE], which have been picked up by other CAUS members.” DE is also becoming a more prevalent issue with other university students, as more students from the U of C, U of L, and U of A begin to take AU courses to supplement their degrees. Shirley says that it “bodes well because when students taking DE courses are being recognized as being legitimate students it enhances everything.”

“Some concerns which primarily affect AU students, like the removal of DE from the governments’ tuition fee policy, may not be as important to other universities in Alberta, but these issues still receive prime attention.” Many other schools in Alberta are starting to branch into the DE field, and as they do they will encounter many of the same challenges that AU students have faced for years. In the last few years, there has been “quite a transition in the acceptance of AU” by other university students, says Shirley.

Through your experience with CAUS, what have you found to be the most effective strategy for influencing government policy? How powerful is the student Voice?

“The student voice can be much more powerful than what is has been so far. One thing we are trying to do more of because we find that it has the greatest potential to have our concerns heard, is to raise public awareness. I often say that University education is like a funeral, you don’t realize the cost until you have to arrange one. People will often say, ‘I had no idea it was so expensive, why didn’t anyone tell me?'”

Shirley says that CAUS wants “to prepare people for what they will have to pay” when they or their children decide to go to university, so that they can start now to put some pressure on the government to raise funding and make affording an education easier. “The most effective form of lobbying” is that which uses the public voice. Shirley notes, however, that often people have to hear about education issues many times, and from many sources, before they begin to realize the magnitude of the problem, and how it will affect them. Only them are they willing to take action to change education policy.

Are the old methods of lobbying still working, or is it time to try something new?

One new approach that has been very effective has been “coalition building with groups who have a high stake in an educated populace, such as a teacher’s or physician’s associations.” By working with groups that are highly respected, “we can build even more awareness.”

Another thing CAUS is doing differently, is they no longer go to the government to simply ask for a solution to the education problem. Instead, “we go in with one or two specific issues that we want to talk about, and we also offer some specific solutions. It’s a more mature way of dealing with the problem and we’re finding that CAUS has gained a lot of respect with the provincial government in the last few years.”

You now have two very demanding jobs. How will you balance your position as CAUS chair with your position as AUSU VP External?

If CAUS had not recently hired an executive director [to handle many of the CAUS administrative duties] I would not have been able to run for Chair. At the other three universities, the students’ unions have a lot of support staff that they can get to help them on projects, whereas we don’t have that luxury.” With the new executive director in place full time, Shirley will be able to concentrate on forming effective lobbying strategies, travelling to educational conferences and government meetings, and educating the public as to the need for a updated government policy for post-secondary education. These same activities should enhance her work as AUSU VP External, as she will now have a much stronger voice when representing the concerns of AU students, as well as all Alberta students.

We wish Shirley the best of luck in her new job, and look forward to the many new initiatives CAUS will be launching this year. If you want to learn more about what CAUS is doing, and about some upcoming changes to the Alberta government’s education policies, read Shirley’s new Voice column – Just CAUS – which premiers in The Voice this week.

Tamra Ross Low
Editor in Chief.

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