Canadian Fedwatch! News Across the Nation

Recognizing International Education’s Importance

The Alberta minister for Advanced Education, David Hancock, was recently in Mexico promotion post-secondary learning opportunities for the people of that country. Along with 12 representatives from Alberta’s post-secondary institutions, Mr. Hancock also opened a new international education office. (http://www.gov.ab.ca/acn/200509/188126BFB4884-7428-498D-BAA58FE09AEE85D2.html)

I’m hoping this suggests a shift in the typical Alberta government viewpoint that out-of-province students are a burden to Albertans and begin recognition that the benefits that accrue from educating students not just in Alberta, but around the world.

This visit coincides with the visit from Mexican President Vicente’ Fox, and it seems as though Canada and Mexico are attempting to draw increasingly close. With nearly three times Canada’s population, Mexico has the ability to become an alternative market to the United States for Canadian goods, if Mexicans are able to draw themselves up from poverty. Making it easy for them to get a first class education is a good first step.

Having the government recognize this and adjust its tuition policy for out-of-country students accordingly would be an excellent step as well, but I’m not holding my breath.

Research Gets 96 Million Dollar Boost

The federal government has announced over 96 million dollars in research funding being given out to more than 2000 master’s, doctoral, and post-doctoral researchers from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. (http://news.gc.ca/cfmx/view/en/index.jsp?articleid=171929)

You can find the list of exactly who got all this money and what they are researching in a convenient PDF file at http://www.sshrc.ca/web/winning/comp_results/2005/2005_fellowships.pdf. Chosen by independent juries of academic researchers, this list contains such gems as the $105,000 given over three years for “Visits to the stews: the brothel in early modern drama and society” (p.193), or $80,000 over 4 years for “The Cuban-Saskatchewan baseball riot of 1959: creating fictional historiography” (p.2). Not that I mind these research projects. I understand that there could be something useful that comes out of them, but I wonder why these receive so much when things like “A policy analysis of intensive forest management and priority zoning”(p.1), and “Community adaptation in a changing Arctic environment”(p.4), things that could probably use longer and further study, only receive 20,000 and are only slated for a single year.

I suppose it’s a matter of priorities. Evidently, forest management is a lower priority than dramas about brothels. And we wonder why some people question the value of education.

Against Expectations

Statistics Canada recently released a study that looked at the effects of sky-rocketing tuitions in professional degrees such as in the medical and legal profession. The results seem to go against what common sense would indicate. (http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/050927/d050927a.htm)

Most people tend to think that if tuition goes up, the percentage of people enroling would go down. However, according to the study, enrolment in these degrees for students whose parents had graduate degrees rose significantly when Ontario tuitions increased. More surprising, the enrolment of students whose parents had no degrees also rose, though not nearly by as much. The only enrolment that declined as prices went up were for the students of parents who had some sort of post-secondary education, but less than a graduate degree–the middle earners, in other words.

This seems almost backward to the traditional expectations, so what exactly is happening? The report doesn’t provide any conclusions, but it does point out that the rise in tuition occurred at the same time that many new facilities were completed, allowing more students to enrol. For students whose parents had no post-secondary education, the report surmises that these students might have been able to find new and additional sources of extra funding to make up for the difference.

When looked at in this manner, we see that it really isn’t so out of line with expectations at all. As tuition goes up, students from middle income families will have more difficulty going. This opens up more spaces in the program. Additionally, increases in tuition allow the institution to open up more spaces in the program and offer more scholarships and awards. The new spaces are taken up by the families who are well-off enough to afford them and the families who are poor enough to qualify for the new awards. The majority of the population in the middle, however, are left out in the cold.

It seems to be another case of society working to create a stronger divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, with the exception that it provides for a lucky few from the ‘have-nots’ as a token gesture to keep everybody in line.

B.C. Boldly Going Where We’ve Gone Before – And Paying for the Privilege

In British Columbia, the provincial government is investing 1.4 million dollars in the creation of online courses for students across the province. They are “targeting program development funding to areas where there is a demand for online learning, including health, science, technology and business.” (http://www2.news.gov.bc.ca/news_releases_2005-2009/2005AE0065-000834.htm) This plan proceeds, in spite of Athabasca University’s existing and fully developed online programs that cover all of these areas, and which could easily be deployed today across the province (editor’s note: In fact, 10% of AU’s current student body resides in B.C. This represents about 4000 students.).

So it seems that the vaunted Alberta-British Columbia plan for a unified schooling system stops almost exactly where it would make the most sense to communicate. Instead of spending 1.4 million to develop their own programs, why not put that 1.4 million into making sure their citizens can easily afford the accredited programs already existing next door?

The answer, it seems, is politics. Since Canada has no national education strategy, provinces across the country have set up barriers making it nearly impossible for programs developed outside the province to be recognized. This is an area where the federal government could provide leadership by finally developing a national Post-Secondary Education ministry, and providing nationwide accreditation.

Of course, that’s not as sexy as attacking the government for a sponsorship scandal, or shovelling money into research funding. That’s just one of those quiet little initiatives that would make sense, and probably one that most people think already exists.

But now you know.

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