A federal election has been called for May 2 and we are teaming up with our federal counterpart, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), to encourage all Canadian students to get out and vote. The Government of Canada plays a big role in post-secondary education – running the Canada Student Loan Program, providing the transfer payments that fund our universities and contributing to the infrastructure on campus – but without your say there is no reason for politicians to take notice of student concerns.
Make sure you take the time to vote, and if you can encourage your friends, family and other students to do the same. Getting informed and taking action yourself has never been easier. CASA has set up a website, studentsneedtovote.ca, to help get you started.
After four days of meetings with over 40 MLAs our lobby conference is about to come to an end. I have one more meeting later this afternoon along with Aden Murphy from the University of Alberta but it seemed to be a good time to reflect on what we have accomplished this week and where we will continue our work on behalf of students through the spring months.
We have received a lot of good feedback from Alberta’s elected representatives on our three major issues: fees, student debt and electoral reform. Naturally in politics we are not going to find agreement from all parties on all things it was good to hear members from each of Alberta’s parties express support on each of our priorities.
In a meeting with Premier Ed Stelmach and Advanced Education and Technology Minister Greg Weadick CAUS worked towards finding common ground on finding the right solution in regards to non-instructional fees, fees that have gone up at the University of Calgary and University of Alberta without student approval. Both the Premier and the Minister agree with CAUS that these growing fees are worrying and that working together we can find a solution.
We also had the pleasure of being introduced to the Legislature and watched question period, a place where all parties have brought student concerns to the attention of the government – including this exchange between Ken Allred, the Progressive Conservative MLA for St. Albert and our Minister:
Mr. Allred: With the cap on tuition fee increases at Alberta’s postsecondary educational institutions several institutions are getting around the cap by imposing non-instructional fees for such ridiculous things as snow removal and registration services… What plans do you have to limit the imposition of non-instructional fees by postsecondary educational institutions?
Mr. Weadick: I’d like to thank this member and others in the House for meeting with members of CAUS this week and hearing some of their concerns. This is one of the concerns that the students have brought forward, maybe their most important concern, that some schools are looking at opportunities to go around the tuition fee cap by imposing other fees. We believe that this is a very serious issue. We’re going to continue to work with the students and look for a solution to this.
It was good to hear our concerns being voiced not just behind closed doors, but on the floor of the Legislature. We are looking forward to not just seeing those concerns being voiced, but moving forward seeing them addressed.
Some random thoughts I also had through the week:
- There is a terrible flu sweeping through the Legislature. I wish the many MLAs and their staffs that have fallen prey to illness this week a speedy recovery.
- The magic spot does not work when the fountain is out of commission. I knew that, but I always hype the magic spot and I am sad when it fails to work.
- One stairwell is out of order at the moment. The elevator on the other side is also out of order.
- In a related note, it takes me a minute and a half to run up five flights of stairs when I am in a rush.
- The Premier got to meet the Vice President of the United States in the White House but BC Premier Gordon Campbell was considered too sketchy and had to settle for a phone call instead.
- There have never been more parties represented by MLAs in the Legislature than there are today.
- Heckling is way louder in person than it is on TV.
Thank you to all of the MLAs who took the time to meet with CAUS and share their views on our post-secondary system. And to the many students and other Albertans who care about our post-secondary system – meeting your MLA is not only for student leaders! Contact your MLA, ask to have a meeting with them to talk about post-secondary education and whatever else you would like to discuss with your elected representative – after all, they work for you.
Every year students from the University of Alberta, University of Calgary and University of Lethbridge head to the Legislature to press the case for investing in Alberta’s post-secondary system to MLAs and other stakeholders as well as get feedback from decision-makers on where our province is heading and what role they envision for post-secondary students and institutions.
This year’s lobby conference comes at a time where our province is facing considerable political change and huge challenges. To meet those challenges CAUS is presenting MLAs with four recommendations. We believe our recovery starts with making our post-secondary system more affordable and accessible for students – as well as ensuring our students are free of barriers to participating in our society both during their studies and after they graduate.
We are recommending:
- Regulate non-instructional fees to prevent institutions unfairly gouging students;
- Close the loophole around the tuition cap, guaranteeing the cost of education is predictable for Alberta’s students and their families;
- Reduce student debt after graduation and offer more grants and bursaries; and
- Make it easier for students to vote by allowing them to identify their ordinary residence and having polling stations on campus.
You can read more about our recommendations by downloading our brief to MLAs and of course the needed changes cannot happen without action – contact your MLA to express your support for more investment in our post-secondary education system.
Every year our students’ unions hold elections for their executive positions. These elections are competitive and take more work than many might think. Thousands of students of vote at each of our campuses, and reaching out to that student body with ideas that resonate is a huge job. It also is an important one because in order to advocate on behalf of our students we need a mandate from them.
Congratulations to our new team and thank you to all of those who put their name on a ballot! In particular, CAUS would like welcome Zack Moline and Andrew Williams from the University of Lethbridge; Dylan Jones and Matt McMillian from the University of Calgary; and Rory Tighe and Farid Iskandar from the University of Alberta – these six student leaders will form the Council of Alberta University Students starting on May 1 when they take office on their campus.
Of course, we’re not done 2010/11 yet – CAUS’ most important event is still to come! Our 2011 Lobby Conference starts on Monday and we are planning to get the message out about non-instructional fees, student debt and voting in Alberta elections out to as many MLAs as possible.