Bill 43 – The Post-Secondary Learning Act, which was tabled last May after first reading by the provincial government, is set to go for third reading in legislature today. Accompanying the Act are 12 amendments, the result of input from institutions and student groups over the past six months.
The best news coming out of the amendments is that tuition for distance education students will remain under the control of the Tuition Fee Policy, although Athabasca University will still be able to charge an out-of-Alberta differential fee as it has been doing. Institutions will also be required to beef up their budget consultation process with students’ unions on tuition increases. Other pieces of good news for Athabasca University students is provision for increased undergraduate student representation on Governing Council and Academic Council, and formal government recognition of Athabasca University Students’ Union as a representative body of AU students. In the past we’ve been incorporated under the Alberta Societies Act.
While the amendments make Bill 43 more palatable for students, they don’t address two critical issues. The main issue of contention for students is the government’s removal of its stated fair balance between a student’s personal investment in his or her education and the public’s investment. For the last few years the ratio has been 30 percent student contribution to an institution’s net operating expenses and 70 percent public contribution. The percentage of student contribution, with the passing of the Bill, will go higher–but only at some institutions, making the disparity of students’ financial obligation between institutions even greater. Student groups in Alberta have been fighting against the lifting of the 30 percent cap, but it with the passing of the tuition amendment last night it appears we’ve lost the battle–for now.
The other contentious issue is on the auditing of students’ unions. Amendments will correct a number of concerns students had but the one remaining issue is that the Learning Minister himself will be the one to trigger an audit if “financial irregularities” are found. Students’ unions and associations have been pushing for financial accountability to our members to be written into the legislation with student petitions being the trigger for an audit, but the way the amendment is written it appears the Minister can trigger an audit on his own or even at the request of a school’s board of governors.
The Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) has been working hard on behalf of the students at Alberta’s universities to get the best deal possible for students. We’ve met with success on some points in the Bill, but we’ve kept the fight going on others. The Alberta Liberal and New Democrat parties have been staunch supporters of student concerns throughout the Bill 43 process, as have other provincial groups, including faculty associations.
The Post-Secondary Learning Act will soon be passed and proclaimed. We know we’ve influenced some of the changes to the Act. We’ll continue working on your behalf to effect other positive changes.
Chair, Council of Alberta University Students
Vice-President External, Athabasca University Students’ Union