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AU Misses Opportunity

The Honourable Dr. Lyle Oberg, Minister of Alberta Learning will be taking a trip ( to Vietnam for a leadership summit in the field of post-secondary education. Dr. Oberg will be participating in a seminar on how government works and collaborates with post-secondary institutions.

Travelling with Dr. Oberg are:
Dr. Paul Byrne, President, Grant MacEwan College;
Dr. Sam Shaw, President, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT);
Dr. Ralph Weeks, President, Medicine Hat College;
Dr. Jim Frideres, Associate Vice President Academic, University of Calgary; and David Rea, Project Manager, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

According to Dr. Shaw, their task is apparently to “assist and lead the creation of a national plan to address the challenges of educational decentralization in Vietnam.”

Athabasca University students will notice that AU is conspicuously absent from this list, despite being one of the best candidates to enable such educational decentralization, despite being an institution that desperately needs to collaborate with the government due to its unique nature, and despite being an institution that is able to work well using considerably less government funding than the counterparts that are taking this trip – something presumably important for Vietnam.

The only conclusion is that AU is so disconnected from Alberta Government operations that they either did not know about this opportunity to not only expand, but to make an impression with the Learning Minister directly, or worse, chose not to attend.

So while Athabasca University complains about not getting enough funding from Alberta Learning, they seem to be taking no steps to remedy the situation either. Then again, why should they, as they also seemed to be convinced that the pockets of students are deep enough to handle their funding woes.

I could understand AU turning to the students for more money, or seeking to be removed from the tuition cap, if they had exhausted other options. I would not appreciate it, but I could at least understand it. Yet things like this convince me that Athabasca University hasn’t even begun to explore all the current options, to say nothing of looking for new ways. Instead what we see is evidence of Athabasca University’s supposed “Students First” policy. In this case, it means the students are the first ones they look to take more money from.

Competition Heating up for AU

The New Brunswick government was pleased to announce ( that the Department of Education and the Université de Moncton have received national awards from the Canadian Association for Distance Education (CADE) for their online courses.

While the awards are based partially on increasing enrolment (and having just started, it is easy for enrollment to increase quickly) this should be a wake-up call for Athabasca University. The world is slowly coming to grips with the idea of education at a distance, and if other universities can do it better than AU can, Athabasca University can expect to start losing students.

In an institution that depends so heavily on student tuitions for to operate, (and is looking to increase this dependence) this could signal a death knell. On the other hand, it might encourage them to lower tuitions as well.

Putting out Fires

In Alberta, it’s wildfires ( In Ontario it was SARS. In both cases, it was an emergency. Yet while the Alberta Government has a policy of preventative measures for wildfires, the Ontario government had nothing in place for a crisis in health-care. In fact, health-care budgets had been drastically cut in the conservatives’ never-ending focus to cut taxes and balance the bottom line.

So now, when the Ontario Government has to put 620 million dollars ( into the health care system to deal with the effects that the SARS crisis had, we can only wonder how much less that would have been if the system had simply been funded adequately to begin with. If nurses hadn’t been stretched to the breaking point already, would many of them have quit in the midst of the crisis? Would it have been able to spread as much as it did, and would the Ontario Government have had to pay 138 million ( into a Tourism and Economic Recovery Plan?

Hopefully these types of occurrences will remind them that a crisis can occur in any field, and that it is far more expensive to put out a fire that’s underway rather than prevent one from happening. Hopefully they’ll put this knowledge to work in the context of education and see that an upcoming shortage of professors would be much cheaper to deal with now, by providing the funding to that more students would go on to become professors, rather than when the wages required to keep a professor in the country go through the roof.

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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