If you’re an AU student, this next week is a critical one for you. If you’re an Albertan, you get to have a say in it. Albertans go to the polls to elect a new provincial government on April 16th. If you’re an AU student this matters, because who is elected will end up having a significant effect on the affordability, and perhaps the quality of your education.
In Alberta, there are 13 parties running, but the race is primarily between the incumbent New Democratic Party, and their conservative challenges, the United Conservative Party. Unfortunately, neither one of these parties has made post-secondary education a priority in their campaigns, but there is some information in their platforms. Two other parties, the Alberta Liberal Party and the Alberta Party have shown some traction in Alberta, both managing to have elected members to the legislature in the past. So to help AU students out, here’s a quick breakdown of the policies they offer, as I see them.
United Conservative Party
Their four policy goals include bringing in more international students, strengthen intellectual property frameworks, make universities guarantee freedom of speech on campus, and measuring how successful a post-secondary institution is by measuring “labour market outcomes” with funding to the institutions being connected to how well they perform. The first item is a good one for AU, as no institution is better poised to take advantage of international students, simply through our delivery format, but the remaining three are troubling. Toughened IP laws mean courses become more expensive to create, and hence more expensive for students to take. Requiring a guarantee of freedom of speech is simply more busy-work being required from an already stretched staff, and in AU’s case particularly, would mean little. But the most troubling is trying to monitor AU’s performance vs. labour market outcomes. Many of AU’s students are not in the Alberta labour market, thus, AU’s effect on the Alberta labour market might be extremely hard to quantify. AU already receives much less funding on a student basis because of this, the UCP proposal may end up making that even worse.
While not in their election platform specifically, the UCP general policies also list support for voluntary payment initiatives for things like students’ unions and other fees that students pay when attending post-secondary. You can see my thoughts on that in an earlier article.
The New Democratic Party
Their platform indicates that it wants to work with post-secondary institutions to review funding formulas and focus new resources on creating additional spaces for new students. They have indicated they want to ensure a lack of seats does not halt qualified students from being enrolled in desired programs. Beyond that, it simply says they are committed to providing consistent and stable funding to post-secondary institutions in Alberta. Their platform makes no mention of continuing the tuition freeze that they enacted over the last four years.
The vagueness of the platform is concerning, as it suggests that not a lot of thought has really gone into what they intend to do with post-secondary education, although the portion about ensuring that a lack of space is not a hindrance for students could bode well for AU, because, as a fully distance based university, AU is the best suited to be able to easily ramp up space depending on the number of students that are seeking post-secondary.
The Alberta Liberal Party
The Liberal party is seeking to support the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematical fields specifically, and have said they want to increase the number of seats available in these programs by 25% over the next term. They have also promised to address the issue of deferred maintenance, that is, maintenance on physical buildings and campuses that universities have been putting off due to a lack of resources. No dollar amount was attached to this. They have also promised to provide more student financial aid to those who need it, and have come out directly to say that they are against the idea of making student union fees voluntary.
Overall, there’s not a lot here that AU looks like it could specifically benefit from. We have no seat limits, so there’s no reason to expect more money from that, we generally don’t use the AU campus, so while I suppose it’s nice if any nagging issues get fixed with the infrastructure at AU, unless that include technological infrastructure, it doesn’t mean a lot to most students. However, student aid to those who need it will always be a solid policy in my books. Money should never be the reason that someone doesn’t pursue further education as the statistics all show that the more education a society has overall, the better it does.
The Alberta Party
Some interesting policy proposals are on offer here, including a student loan forgiveness program if the student agrees to remain in the province to work, with additional loan forgiveness for those who choose to work in underserved areas. While this won’t help most students at AU, for Alberta students, it’s can be a significant boost. Like the Liberal party, the Alberta party also wants to increase capacity, by 45,000 seats, 3,000 specifically reserved for indigenous lead programming.
The Alberta party is also suggesting it would expand employment opportunities within the province for students in part by expanding the Summer Temporary Employment Program.
They are also the only party among the four major parties to promise to continue to keep tuition capped at all post-secondary institutions. This cap is something that will definitely benefit AU students, no matter where they are.