The Alberta government has launched a comprehensive review of the province's post-secondary education system, angering critics who have called for an independent examination.
"We need to have a process of reviewing the system," said Advanced Education Minister Dave Hancock. "It'll be a comprehensive discussion and will include a broad range of stakeholders and the public."
The review, titled A Learning Alberta: Framing the Challenge, will run through the summer and involve research and discussion phases. Three Conservative MLAs and 14 prominent Albertans, including University of Calgary President Dr. Harvey Weingarten, will form a steering committee to examine post-secondary funding, tuition, rural education and innovative approaches to learning. The committee's recommendations will be presented during a minister's forum in the fall, said Hancock.
Student leaders and opposition politicians have expressed concerns about the process, calling instead for an independent commission to look at Alberta's system similar to the Learning Commission for K-12 Education.
"If you look at the composition of the steering committee, these are all old-time friends and advisors of the Conservative government," said Calgary-Currie MLA and Liberal Advanced Education Critic Dave Taylor. "It looks like a lot of advanced work will be done behind closed doors. There needs to be involvement from students. There needs to be involvement from student leaders, from faculty, from parents."
Hancock refuted claims the review is being done at the expense of stakeholder input.
"It's hardly internal," said Hancock, noting student groups, faculty associations and parents will all be consulted during the project's discussion phases. "I promised we would involve the stakeholder community in a complete review of the system."
U of C Students' Union Vice-President External Jen Smith expr-essed concern that consultation with students is not good enough.
"We're really concerned there's no students on the steering committee," said Smith. "There' a difference between consultation and actual membership. It's not too late to involve students."
Smith also expressed concern over Weingarten's placement on the committee.
"I'm not thrilled," she said. "I don't feel he's been the greatest friend undergraduate students have had during his time here."
Weingarten said he looks forward to the review process. He noted his placement on the committee will ensure U of C issues are taken into account, but stressed the need for all voices to be heard.
"What the government has done is brought a bunch of people together who know about the system--who are within the system," said Weingarten. "I don't think this is any attempt at keeping the public from making contributions."
Weingarten said the committee will focus on outlining the aspirations of Alberta's advanced education system but acknowledged that affordability is one of the major issues to be examined by the review.
"There's no point in having a terrific system if students can't access it because of financial issues," he said. "We need to address the issue of affordability."
"At the end of the day it all comes down to money," he said. "Are we prepared to properly fund post-secondary education?"
Other committee members include Eric Newell, Chancellor of the University of Alberta, Frits Pannekoek, Athabsca University President, Elmer Ghostkeeper, a member of the Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement of Alberta and Jim Gurnett, Executive Director of Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers.
The Minister's Forum will be held Oct. 31-Nov. 2 at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton.