Editorial—Some Movement, Fewer Moves

Advanced Education Minister Demetrious Nicolaides has put forward the latest Investment Management Agreement for Athabasca University.  This is the document that tells AU how much funding is going to get, and what conditions the provincial government is putting on that.  In it, instead of requiring a completely unrealistic 50% of AU’s staff be made to live and work in a small rural community, the new version now demands increases of 10%, year over year, for 3 years.  As CBC reports, the area of Athabasca currently houses about 25% of its 1,200 total staffing, or 300 employees.

This means that over three years, AU will be expected to increase the number of people employed in the town by about 100, with a penalty of about 9% of AU’s operational funding on the line if they don’t do this.  From what I can work out, that amount is around 3.7 million dollars, or about $41,000/person that AU will be penalized if they don’t manage to move them to Athabasca.

Minister Nicolaides says, “I think any reasonable and rational person that would take a look at those metrics would say that yeah, this is very achievable.” Maybe.

What wasn’t asked of him was, “Why should this be achieved at all?”  What purpose does it serve to the actual stakeholders of Athabasca University, the staff and the students, to require more people live in a rural town?  No other public institution or private post-secondary institution in Alberta has such a requirement, and for good reason, it’s senseless.  It has nothing to do with providing an education.

So, just to make this known now, if AU wants, feel free to hire me for the cost of the post office box I’ll use as a mailing address, and the cost of renting a room at the President’s house, which I understand is vacant at the moment.  You can list my position as ‘institutional management agreement assistant.’  After all, I expect there’s nothing in the IMA noting that I have to actually spend money in the area.

And this, ultimately, is why this entire thing is a farce.  Unless there’s some kind of fishy deal going on with landowners around the Athabasca area, there’s absolutely no reason to make AU move employees.  I can see the government wanting them to hire more people in the area, but making them move employees does almost nothing to increase the economy of the region, and does so at similar expense to whatever region they’re moving employees from.

When you consider that the people who are most likely to want to move to a small rural area are the people who already live in a small rural area, this is nothing more than cannibalism that makes little sense economically, and no sense academically.  People will move from struggling Rocky Mountain House to struggling Athabasca.  At least, I assume they’re struggling, because why else would they have to lobby the government to force people to move to the place if they were actually a destination people wanted to live.

And that’s the other part of the equation.  Why would Athabasca want to be seen as so desperate as to require the government hold students’ education hostage so they could have a few more people in their town?  At any rate, enjoy the read!

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