Let's Advance Education
In Honour of Lois Hole

On the sixth of January, 2005, Alberta lost Lt.-Gov. Lois Hole to cancer. She was admired, respected and much-loved. She tackled everything she did with passion and respect for others.

Her priorities were health and well-being of Albertans, their creativity in the arts, and good education for their and their children's future. In her public life she served as chancellor of the University of Alberta before being asked to become Lieutenant-Governor.

In my last two columns, I made reference to articles about tuition fees increases and the financial pressures being experienced by our universities. I said first that there were political connotations to fee increases which were a bullet I'd rather dodge; in the second column I said that there were issues here that we should become informed about and should be debating.

In recent weeks there have been further articles about the University of Alberta considering cutting mandatory English from a full-year to a half-year course, and a report by the Canada West Foundation urging both industry and government to “step up to the plate to avert skills shortage.”

I think if Lois Hole had been writing this column, she would be far more positive — and outspoken — than I have been. The school system educates and provides special skills training to our children, our grandchildren, and our professional career successors.

Why would we want to leave all decisions in such critical areas to politicians, educators and bureaucrats? Not only do we have a concern for the products of the system, but one way or another we, as taxpayers, are paying for this!

The cuts proposed in English language come in the face of a funding shortage in the Faculty of Arts budget. If this savings justifies the cut today, why wasn't this an equally valid argument when the course was instituted (i.e. the savings gained are worth more than the knowledge provided)?
The article said that some other universities have less offered, or none at all. I don't think we should be basing our curriculum on what other universities do.

Dr. Ken Porteous, P.Eng., U of A's associate dean of engineering, was quoted as saying that “the ability to communicate is an important part of an engineer's career.” In my own career, I spent a good deal of time trying to teach young engineers to write a meaningful, readable report. I don't expect that has changed.

In the Canada West report, the case is made that “if industry needs specialized labour … it should be expected to increase its level of funding.” How much should industry be expected to pay? How much to the student? The taxpayer?

In the Edmonton Journal of Dec. 15, an article by Sarah Schmidt of CanWest News Service is headlined Good Students Left Out of University in Growing Numbers, B.C., Alberta Can't Meet Demand. Applicant demand in Alberta began to outstrip available space since the fall of 2003.

The issues here are not simple. I refer you again to The Bridge article by Mustafa Hirji that was referenced last month (see call-out box with this article). The data show that over the past 11 years, provincial base grants have been steadily decreasing as a percentage of operating costs. In absolute terms, provincial grants were less in 2004-2005 than in 1987.

During the past three years, university utility costs have doubled. Meanwhile students are making up the difference; since 1990 Alberta student fees have increased by 273 per cent, according to the article.

There has been additional government funding more recently but it has been targeted — aimed at research and new buildings but not available to teaching or building operations. The university has 2,400 more students than for whom it receives funding.

Mr. Hirji argues that these reductions have impacted students in a number of ways. Debt considerations affect their career choices and pursuit of graduate studies. Cuts prevent some from taking post secondary education.

University staff are also affected. Negative impacts on salary, research and job openings have been demoralizing.

The university administration is affected too, of course. It has had to increase tuition, as well as administration and user fees such as parking. Even then, the university is looking at a $3 million deficit in the year ahead.

I urge you to read Mr. Hirji's article yourself and not settle for my paraphrasing. Although his data are taken from the University of Alberta, I'm sure things aren't much different at other Alberta universities.
Then I think that all of our members, in the spirit of Lois Hole, should become informed and ask some hard questions of politicians, educators, and themselves.

What to Watch For
Your APEGGA Education Foundation Board held a special planning session late last month to consider one of the foundation's missions: to fund educational initiatives other than scholarships. Watch for more on that in coming editions of The PEGG.

Donation Results for 2004
Unaudited (2003 in Brackets)

Voluntary Donations - $56,567 ($59,907)
Summit Awards Revenue - $36,450 ($33,600)
APEGGA Donations $56,645 - ($58,750)

2004’s voluntary donations include $28,835 from a campaign with life members; there was
no similar campaign last year.

Author Credits

Education Foundation Columnist