Editorial Pages

This week, a guest editorial… by Peter Tretter

Former Ontario NDP Premier Bob Rae was recently invited by the Ontario government to do a review of post-secondary education in Ontario. Most of the submissions were from student groups, colleges and universities in Ontario. AU submitted comments and suggestions, as did our students’ union. [read the report here: http://www.raereview.on.ca/en/report/default.asp?loc1=report]

The review is supposed “to develop a plan (due out early 2005) that gets us to a higher quality, affordable and accountable post-secondary education system.”

In its submission to the Rae Commission, the University asserted that there are 6,689 Ontario students taking courses at AU. Further, annual growth rates exceed 15% in Ontario. The University suggested in its submission to the Rae Commission that perhaps the Ontario government help support AU: “… students in Ontario are asked to pay an out of Province fee so as to reflect the fact that the Government of Alberta officers financial support to Athabasca University.”

Recently, my sister and I were talking about the true scope of the University. An interesting idea she had was that AU should open a “campus” in Ontario, and that the Ontario government should help pay for AU’s “campus.” (This is a common request the AUSU has tried to push the envelope with in the past.) I tried to explain to her that it wasn’t that simple. However, it got me thinking. AU went through the trouble to make a submission to the Rae Commission, so why can they not get up the gumption to make a presentation to the Ontario government, and other provincial governments, for that matter, so that, as my sister put it, “AU can become a national University.” No more out-of-province fees, just pay the same amount that students in Alberta pay (which is too much already.) A “University of Canada,” so-to-speak. I might point out here that AU’s request is really small potatoes: we have just under 35% of our students in Ontario and all AU is asking for is some support from Ontario government for the little differential fee. Come on, Dominique, make the Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, and the other provincial Education Ministers put their money where their mouths [and students] are!

Right now AU is an “Alberta-only” University when it comes to funding, and even the main organization the AUSU is a member of–The Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) is Alberta based. The brave people in Canada’s soon-to-be debt-free province subsidize those of us in the rest of Canada, and even internationally, through their government contributions. Aside from convincing Mary Ann Chambers, Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, of AU’s value to the other provinces, our good AU President Dr. Abrioux should consider making a presentation to the Paul Martin government (or whomever is in power after the budget comes out) about national funding directly for AU. Do not stop at the Province of Alberta, just pass go, and collect the millions of dollars. Perhaps present to all the Ministers of Education at once, like their other counterparts, they must have some sort of national summit. Or maybe AU can invite them all out to Athabasca and woo them with the scenery and local beef. (You could get a t-shirt that says: I invited all the Ministers of Education from across Canada, and helped promote Alberta beef.)

Living in Ottawa, I pay way too much to write my exams. There’s the exam fee to Algonquin College, fees for parking, and so forth. Here I don’t have the option to take a grouped study class. It’s interesting, considering that I understand Ottawa has a decent size AU population [ed. close to 1000 in Ottawa in the surrounding area]. Ontario cities such as Ottawa and even Toronto could use a learning centre to go to for academic advice, exam writing, and so forth. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just something where you feel like part of the AU family. At the very least, it would be great if the Ontario government could pay for things like our exams and travel expenses if they aren’t going to help fund a learning centre. We all know Dalton McGuinty, the Ontario Premier, can pony up the dough. (Memo the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services: Your Ottawa offices were due for a paint job 10 years ago. You may be experiencing budget cuts, but I bet you can get someone to volunteer to prevent the torture that looking at your horrid walls inflicts.)

Bob Rae and his Commission are going to make a recommendation on the future of post-secondary education in Ontario. His commission will study the many comments they have received, and various other boring reports. In the end, they will think they have come to a solution that will benefit all the residents of Ontario. However, because of this, maybe it’s time for AU to not just be a benefit to students of Alberta. Perhaps as my sister suggested, “Canada’s Open University” should really become our national university.