If I were president of Athabasca University (AU) I would attempt to achieve four main goals during my term in office. First, I would endeavour to protect and advance AU’s position as best-in-class in the provision of accessible quality distance university education. Second, I would seek to slow tuition increases by economizing AU operations without reducing qualitative or quantitative services. Third, I would implement policies which would increase student-to-student grading equality. And finally, I would actively promote bilateral communication between myself and AU’s geographically disparate student-body”?both collectively and individually.
An accelerating number of post-secondary institutions are entering the technological age and distance education providers are increasingly coming under the mounting pressures of national and international competition. Globalization of trade has also affected distance education providers, and domestic and international students have a multitude of educational organizations to choose from”?not necessarily within their country of residence. International choice can be both advantageous and disadvantageous to our university. While international students can choose AU, Canadian students can also choose alternate post-secondary institutions across the globe. AU, as Canada’s founding distance-based post-secondary education institution, has over thirty years of experience in the field and a substantial head start over universities that have relatively recently begun to offer course delivery at a distance. However, the prospective student can only weigh these facts if he or she is aware of them. If I were president of AU, I would increase advertising both domestically and internationally in order to inform prospective students of our university’s substantial experience in delivering high-quality education at a distance, and at a comparably economical price. I am confident that AU is the world-leader amongst distance education providers; however, in order to retain that ranking in an era of technological globalization, it must continue to work hard and cannot afford to rest on it laurels.
To hold down tuition costs to students, the university should concentrate its efforts on three fronts: maintaining pressure on federal and provincial governments for adequate educational funding; increasing student numbers to reap the benefits of economies-of-scale; and reducing material costs of the courses themselves. Increasing the numbers of paying students so as to keep costs down for individual students could be accomplished through vastly increased advertising of the university and the quality services that it offers, as mentioned above. We could also attract new students by expanding the variety of programs that the university offers, particularly in the graduate study areas. Presently the university does not offer graduate programs in numerous areas in which it offers undergraduate programs”?industrial relations is but one example. By building on its foundation programs and expanding its graduate-study offerings, AU could attract new students and entice bachelor degree graduates to continue their studies through AU in their chosen fields. I also suggest that AU should maintain its role as a ground-breaking institution by moving into program areas not yet broached by distance education organizations, such as law or medicine.
In order to reduce material costs, I suggest that course materials should be provided in electronic media wherever possible, while leaving the choice up to the student. The world is rapidly advancing into the technological era and an ever-increasing number of AU’s students and potential students have access to computer technologies and/or the Internet. The university could save significant amounts of money by providing web-based or disc-based course materials rather than traditional paper-based materials. Of course, the option of receiving traditional course materials must remain open to those students, and potential students, that do not have computer access. Paramount in changes such as these must remain AU’s dedication to quality service and education.
My third goal would be to ensure equity and equality amongst AU students, particularly with regard to grading policies. Some students feel that the lack of consistency amongst tutors’ preferences results in variations in grades at no fault of the students. If I were president of AU, I would implement a policy wherein tutors would be required to send out their individual preferences and expectations to students along with their introduction letter prior to the start date of a course. This would minimize the impact of tutor-to-tutor preference variations on the marks that students would receive for work submitted. Students could adjust their work to the individual demands of the tutor before receiving feedback on their first assignments. Further, as president I would attempt to work closely with faculty, staff, the student’s organization, and individual students for the furtherance of equity, equality and mutual respect within the AU community.
My final goal would be accomplished by vastly increasing the president’s access to the students of AU. The university’s unique status as a 100% distance organization makes it difficult to the point of near impossibility for the president to be seen and known by the student body. I suggest that affirmative action is required to remedy that situation. If I were president, I would implement regular monthly online real-time question and answer sessions with students in an administrated electronic chat-room forum. This would allow students to question university policies and practices and receive instant responses from one who knows the answers. I would also set up a quarterly president’s report to the AU community, which would outline what the president had done in the previous three-month period, what directions the university executive and faculty were taking, and what would be expected in the near and distant future. Finally, I would increase individual access to the president’s office through an e-mail “ask the president” system, wherein students, or any other interested party, could email questions to the president, the answers to which would be posted on a president’s web site. Through these means, I would make the president’s office open, transparent, and accountable to AU’s geographically, culturally, and ideologically disparate community.
To conclude, as president of AU I would protect and advance AU’s position as a world-leader in the provision of distance based post-secondary study; try to control the rising costs of tuition; actively promote equity, equality and mutual respect within the AU community; and, increase access to, and accountability of, the office of president.