Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Changing Perspectives On Postsecondary Education

In September 2009, the Government of Alberta transformed two Albertan colleges, Mount Royal and Grant MacEwan, into universities.  According to the provincial government, this transformation met students’ needs and converged with the province’s economic goals. 

For instance, the government’s September 3 2009 press release about Mount Royal’s transformation noted “Mount Royal University’s programs are key to our province’s ability to meet the needs of learners, taxpayers and society while building our knowledge-based economy,” said Doug Horner, Minister of Advanced Education and Technology. “I support and commend Mount Royal’s role in offering undergraduate degrees and the wide range of programming they’ve built over the past number of years.”

Similarly,  the government celebrated MacEwan’s change in a September 24 2009 press release that quoted Minister Horner on MacEwan’s role as follows: “Grant MacEwan University’s commitment to affordable, accessible and quality education mirrors the goals of Campus Alberta, which is to provide the right programs to learners where and when they need them.”

Times have certainly changed.  In four short years, the government’s goals have altered from providing “the right programs to learners where and when they need them” to searching for administrative efficiencies and removing redundancies.

The September 24 2009 press release presented the perspective of the previous premier: “The needs of Alberta students are changing and our world-class post-secondary institutions are ahead of the curve in terms of providing the best educational opportunities anywhere,” said Premier Ed Stelmach. “Grant MacEwan University is an outstanding institution that has shown there is an exciting alternative for undergraduate studies.”

According to a March 9 2013 Edmonton Journal quote, current Premier Alison Redford has a very different view: "We cannot be all things to all people, everywhere.  We cannot be 26 postsecondary institutions that all have equivalent departments of political science and English and history and chemistry and biology and business. And, and, and," she said.  The result: a $147 million cut in postsecondary funding.

There has been a flurry of news stories in the last short while that illustrate the consequences of this funding decision.  There have been suspended programs at Mount Royal University and at Red Deer College.  Major faculties at the University of Alberta have announced cuts that include a 20% reduction in graduate student support.  Reports out of the University of Calgary include program cuts and reductions in student admissions.  This news is profoundly distressing.  More is on the way.

The most recent provincial budget harms the quality of education that students receive, reducing their options, and increasing their class sizes.  The evidence of this is clear, and appears daily in the newspapers.  The most frustrating aspect of this to me is the view of the government that it is supporting students, and not affecting their postsecondary experience.  A more honest approach, in my view, would be to admit that the government’s perspective has changed profoundly in the past four years, to the detriment of postsecondary education – and its students.

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