Co-op awaits budget guillotine

By Karoline Czerski

The University of Calgary’s $30 million deficit leaves students feeling the pinch in academic programs and student services. Faculties are looking at a seven per cent reduction over two years, while administration faces 15 per cent. Programs such as Co-op will face restructuring with the risk of disappearing under cutback pressures.

“What’s left needs to be of high quality,” remarked Career Services Director Craig Fortner. Career Services undertakes most of the organization of Co-op and Internship programs, especially for Arts and Social Sciences.

When high quality is on the agenda, certain Co-op programs require revision. It is a challenge to juggle student interest in the programs, faculty interest in offering them, and critical timing constraints.

“We don’t have the level of resources required for high-quality Co-op programs,” admitted Fortner. “The university is more focused on research and teaching.”

Each university thrives on certain strategic programs–the University of Waterloo invests significantly in Arts and Social Sciences Co-op, attracting potential students from across the country. For the U of C, the focus of restructuring is to cut out what is not profitable.

“Is [Co-op] strategic enough that it should remain?” asked Fortner. “If a program has strategic value, and if there is a commitment in terms of resources, it will flourish.”

For Co-op to flourish at the university, it not only needs the commitment of Career Services, but also that of the academic departments who approve and fund Co-op programs.

For faculties like Management and Engineering, Co-op and Internship have long rooted themselves in the Academic Plan, and enjoy firm ties with their professional communities. For certain Arts and Social Science departments, Co-op doesn’t have the same benefits.

“Our Co-op is very small, as in many Arts faculties,” pointed out Dean of Communications and Culture, Dr. Kathleen Scherf. “It will be difficult for us to sustain cuts and easily keep the program going.”

Scherf stressed the importance of the program to the students involved and hopes that Co-op will remain an option, noting that it would be a great disappointment to have the program downsized.

Current Co-op students enjoy opportunities the program offers. Fourth-year Sociology major Sophie Sapergia pointed out that the Arts Co-op program was what attracted her to the U of C.

“I was interested in Co-op because I’m pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree, and I was afraid of the [uncertain] job prospects in the field.”

With two work terms with the federal government and two other work terms with Canada West Foundation already behind her, Sapergia feels confident about her experience.

“It’s been absolutely essential in helping me find out what kind of work I like and don’t like, as well as helping to shape my plans for the future.”

It’s not just students that are interested in keeping the Co-op program around. Dr. Geoff Cragg, Co-op representative for the undergraduate Communication Studies program, is extremely pleased with students and the quality of Co-op.

“Co-op does students a lot of good, the professional community a lot of good, the university a lot of good,” he said.

With budget cuts on the horizon, Co-op opportunities will undoubtedly dwindle.

“In the worst-case scenario, the work that Career Services staff do in terms of Co-op, will over the long term go to departments,” said Cragg.

However, between mentoring Co-op Communications students–duties that he assumes entirely on his own free time–and marking their papers, Cragg is unable to maintain the responsibilities on his own.

“It would be very difficult for most departments to take over the Co-op responsibility [of Career Services],” he said.

Both administration and faculties face tough restructuring decisions, however, the main goal is to boost quality programs profitable to the university.

Craig Fortner acknowledges the restructuring reality.

“Getting there might be painful, but underneath is real opportunity to flourish.”

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