SU, Oberg discuss university funding

By Adriana Hunstad

On Tue., Aug. 6, representatives from Alberta universities gathered in Edmonton to further discuss student issues with Alberta Minister of Learning Lyle Oberg. The University of Calgary sent Student Union President Matt Stambaugh, Vice-President External Nick Vuckovic, and Policy Advisor Glen Hughes.

At the one-hour meeting, student representatives from the Universities of Alberta, Lethbridge, Calgary and Athabasca discussed parental contributions, university funding, tuition models, student loans, the University Act and distance education.

"Oberg promised no new, further cuts to university funding," said Vuckovic. "They know that it’s a political nightmare to take away university funding."

Vuckovic was concerned with the way provincial funding is calculated to include the indirect costs of research, significant since Alberta does not allow more than 30 per cent of operating costs to be funded by tuition.

"When they calculate the percentage, they don’t take out the indirect cost of research," said Vuckovic. "When they don’t do that, it balloons operating budgets of universities. They need to take out indirect costs. Lyle will look at this, so U of C students will hit tuition cap and we will not see astronomical growth in tuition."

Vuckovic was concerned about increasing research funding at the U of C which also increases the operating budget. He stated tuition will never hit the 30 per cent cap unless they change the calculation formula to exclude indirect costs of research.

According to Vuckovic, Oberg thought it was a viable solution. The Minister did not want to change the policy, however.

"Students are people too. If they need a loan, they should be able to gain access regardless of parental contribution," said Vuckovic.

At the meeting, Oberg reiterated his support for a revised consultation process, including more representation on bodies with powers over tuition.

Currently, the only way to sit on a university Board of Governors is to be appointed by the Learning Ministry. The student representatives pressed to have more students nominated to sit on universities’ Boards of Governors.

Vuckovic said Oberg seemed approachable. But, nomination does not guarantee a position, only consideration. Currently, two students from each university sit on the board.

"[Oberg] disagrees with guaranteed student representation at the Board of Governors level," said Vuckovic.

There is talk of opening the Universities Act to revision. Oberg seemed receptive to proposed changes to this act including allowing Students’ Unions to obtain loans and having more student representation on BoGs.

As for a tuition policy, students felt they should be able to negotiate or stop any increases in tuition.

"[Oberg] said it realistically could never happen, because he doesn’t even have that power to veto tuition increases," said Vuckovic. "But he has power to give students the power to negotiate for tuition increases."

While hesitant to adopt this proposal, Oberg is considering adding the U of L and Athabasca under the Act, which will symbolically identify them as "real" universities. In addition, he is considering deregulating distant education, associated with the University of Athabasca.

However, Oberg did not like the idea of redefining the tuition model, but was amicable to the idea of a joint centennial celebration with Alberta students.

"We would work together to make a one time student initiative to benefit students," said Vuckovic.


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