If you avoid Facebook, you’ll likely have missed the Alberta government’s recent announcement about additional funding for Athabasca University. This morning, Premier Notley went up to Athabasca to make an announcement about the NDP providing new funding to AU for Mental Health Services.
Between her and the Minister of Advanced Education, Marlin Schmidt, they trotted out some impressive statistics. One in five people will suffer some sort of mental health challenge, which means that it is very likely everybody is affected, perhaps someone you know. A majority of students in a 10-campus study said they’d experienced depression, loneliness and helplessness, with 1 in 10 having said they considered suicide, and 1 in 50 having made an attempt. To put those numbers in perspective, AU typically has about 25,000 students at any one time, and handles around 40,000 students in a given year. 1 in 50 would mean that, if the numbers hold, around 500 of your fellow students, right now, have attempted to commit suicide. It kind of brings a different perspective to those Facebook posts you see, doesn’t it?
And given how AU opens the opportunity of post-secondary education up to an audience of people who would find traditional university impossible due to mental health issues, that number is probably even higher among AU students.
As an example, this week, our feature article is with a student who is courageous enough to tell us how she uses AU to help her cope with her own social anxiety while taking her studies. As well, our own Marie Well has been quite open in discussing how she has had, and largely overcome, similar types of difficulties, and I’m sure there are many more, probably even with some people that you feel you know reasonably well.
All of which is why I find the announcement, as good as it is, somewhat of a let-down. From the video, the numbers I heard indicate that while the province will be spending $25.8 million over three years, Athabasca University will only be receiving about $200,000 of that funding in each of the years. (AU has since posted that they will be receiving 215,000 each year). Now, I understand that $215,000 per year is a far better amount than the zero or even cutbacks that many politicians in Alberta seem to be advocating to control budgets, but I’ll note that there are 26 public post-secondary institutions in Alberta. A simple even split would make the amount closer to a million dollars. (Which, incidentally, is nearly the amount that the U of A will receive.)
When you consider that AU’s mode of operation makes it specifically attractive to students who may have mental (or even physical) health issues that prevent them from attending a normal university, I wonder if once again AU is being given the short end of the stick.
I was also a bit concerned when I heard the Chair of AU’s Board of Governors, Vivian Manasc, specifically note that she wanted to see this funding go toward research to reduce the risk of ongoing mental health challenges. While I’m sure that’s needed, diverting some of the funding to research means less funding to actually support those in need right now. Perhaps that should be left for one of the schools that received a larger portion of the pie, such as Grant MacEwan University, which will be receiving nearly $500,000 per year while only servicing some 19,000 credit students.
Now, if after this, you’re looking for something to boost your spirits? Well, you’re in luck. Not only do we interview student Brittany Daigle, as I mention above, but we’ve also got the start of an in-depth interview with AU President Neil Fassina, now that he’s had some time in the job, and a bunch of other articles of advice, news, and helpful tips to keep you amused until next week. Enjoy the read!