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Alberta Relents?

The Alberta Government might be starting to get the message. Over the past week, additional funding has been announced ( for the post-secondary system. 30 million dollars has been allocated to Alberta Learning’s post-secondary institutions to be used for operating costs and maintenance. That money has to cover all the post-secondary institutions in Alberta, from the universities to apprenticeship training and small colleges. This means that it probably will not put a dent in tuition, it should still give the institutions some needed breathing space so that they can at least continue to run effectively.

In addition, the government is further supplying ( an extra 40 million in directed funding to open access to high demand programs such as apprenticeship training and health care. As a province that has been promoting “Life-long learning” for many years, it is great to see the Alberta government finally start to put some money, rather than its foot, where its mouth is.

Not being one to see a silver-lining without the cloud underneath it, however, I will point out that this still does very little to address the problems of growing tuition. None of this money is directed at increasing enrolment into post-secondary, rather it helps universities to cope with the current demand. Since cost is still the primary reason given by Alberta high-school graduates who’ve decided not to attend post-secondary, it is time that a government that is supposedly committed to a knowledge economy demonstrate some knowledge of what is going on around them.

What is really amazing is that the Statistics Canada recently released a report showing that Alberta is the province with the largest local and provincial surpluses of all the provinces in Canada. Yet it is other provinces (such as Manitoba) where post-secondary tuition is coming down, and it is Alberta where the post-secondary funding increases were less than the rate of inflation.

Cross Border Poetry

The Ontario Government has announced ( $10,000 in scholarships to provide for three poets from Ontario to attend the Banff Centre for the Arts. This is a good thing in a number of ways, not only is it showing an attention to studies that benefit more than just the bottom line, it is also showing an increased flexibility on the part of the Province of Ontario to look at institutions outside of Ontario as providing a benefit for them.

This can only mean good things in the future for Athabasca University, as one of the problems distance education still faces is a reluctance of provincial governments to recognize and fund institutions of other provinces. For instance, the provincial student finance program in Quebec does not recognize Athabasca University as an institution that they can provide funding for as it is not within the province. This step by the Ontario government, the likes of which I haven’t heard of before, is a good sign that at least one Provincial Government is realizing there are some things that can be done outside the province as well.

It can only be to the benefit of Canadians if all provinces were to realize that distance education not only offers an education at a (comparatively) reasonable cost, but also offers the additional benefit of still having the student in the province and supporting the local provincial economy while they study, as well as when they graduate.

Yet Still Short-Sighted

On the other hand, the Ontario Government is also crowing (yet again) ( about how they have managed to handle the double cohort (grades 12 and 13) of their high-schools. Over 100,000 high-school students applied to Ontario universities, and over 70,000 were admitted, maintaining their provincial average of 70% of applicants. To handle this huge influx of students, over 1.7 billion dollars was spent in building 35 new facilities, and one new university. Dianne Cunningham, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, goes on to state how “The investments we have made in postsecondary education have met our commitment to provide a place for every willing and qualified student in the double cohort year. The new facilities and faculty will benefit students for years to come.”

That would be for about 4 – 6 years to come. The amount of time it takes for all those students to get through the system and graduate.

Does anybody care to guess what will happen to all that extra space after that?

Going to University in 2008 in Ontario looks to me as if it will be a very lonely experience. I imagine a lot of empty halls and empty classrooms.

Now imagine what would have happened if instead of being used to build so many places to sit, that even half of that money had been used to fund students choosing distance education. With 1.7 billion dollars available, Ontario could have simply bought Athabasca University wholesale – it already moved once, back in 1984 – and used distance education for their entire double-cohort with little difficulty and with the ability to scale it back after the double-cohort had finished their degrees.

Of course, 2008 is well past the next election period. Probably why the Ontario government didn’t think about it.

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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