Deregulation of Distance Education tuition the tip of the iceberg

Deregulation of Distance Education tuition the tip of the iceberg

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The following letter is similar to one by the same author that was originally published in the Edmonton Journal on August 10. The Journal version of the letter was edited for brevity but contained the same information.

14 August, 2003

Once again, fellow students, education is under attack in Alberta. Unbelievably, this latest effort to increase the financial burden for students of higher education originates from within an educational institute. Athabasca University has asked the Alberta Government to let it “deregulate” tuition fees.

Is it a coincidence that recent Athabasca University advertisements featured Premier Ralph Klein as its star student? (Scary, isn’t it?) Klein is the author of Alberta’s ill-planned, and disastrously expensive energy deregulation program. In return for higher energy bills, Klein has offered Albertans the opportunity to buy energy services from Direct Energy/British Gas, a company with a history of unethical practices, including the illegal forging of customer signatures on energy contracts in Ontario. Welcome to Ralph’s world!

Has the Ralph Klein deregulation disease now infected institutes of higher learning? It appears that “Canada’s open university” will be the next victim of this “deregulation” mania. It is especially worrisome, though, that an institution which should be advocating the availability of higher learning would actually pursue a program that will be a deterrent for many students in financial need.

How can Athabasca University justify its request to charge fees higher than those of other public universities in Alberta? Ironically, Athabasca University should have lower expenses than other universities. The University of Alberta, for example, is a large complex of buildings that includes hundreds of classrooms, laboratories, and other facilities frequented by undergraduate students. In addition, the U of A is also faced with the costs of heating, cleaning, maintaining, and providing security for its sprawling campus. In comparison, Athabasca University offers very few classroom courses. Instead, most of its courses are offered almost exclusively as distance education, and therefore,Athabasca does not face the same large capital expenditures and associated expenses faced by other universities. If Athabasca U cannot offer courses for lower fees than other universities, it seems to me that there is something very wrong at Athabasca University. In short, although the President of the university has previously suggested that Athabasca University students do not have the same expenses as other students, it is very clear that Athabasca University does not have the same expenses that other universities have.

In the larger picture, however, we should all be concerned about the implications of tuition fee deregulation. If Athabasca University has no limits placed on its tuition fees, of course other educational institutions would want the same freedom. These changes would have catastrophic consequences for Albertans pursuing higher education. It is especially unfortunate when an institute of higher learning gets on the “deregulation” bandwagon.

J.R. Buhler,
Athabasca University