University of Alberta Students’ Union president Petros Kusmu.
courtesy Elaine Yip/The Gateway

Minister of advanced education mulls results of student survey

Student representatives share views with Dave Hancock

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Leading members of the student advocacy project Ignite Alberta discussed the findings of a recent student survey with deputy premier and minister of advanced education Dave Hancock last weekend.

The province-wide survey — titled “Ideas for Post-Secondary Education” (IPSE) — looks at students’ views on post-secondary education in Alberta. Students from 23 post-secondary institutions participated through focus groups and an online questionnaire.

IPSE shows students care most about affordability and accessibility, with 92 per cent placing a “high importance” on affordability and 88 per cent saying finances should not be a barrier to post-secondary education. 

“We always talk about fees and tuition. Those are important things, but other students would be like, ‘I’m really worried about the cost of textbooks, the cost of rent,’ ” said Ignite Alberta steering committee chair and University of Alberta Students’ Union president Petros Kusmu. “There are all these other things that students say pose a challenge when it comes to accessibility and affordability in post-secondary education.”

The survey shows students are concerned about the difference in accessibility to education between urban and rural populations.

“A common example is the stigma that many rural and aboriginal students face when leaving their homes and their families to become ‘over-educated’ at a post-secondary institute,” reads the report. 

Twenty-three per cent of participants listed “inclusive” or “equal opportunity” to describe their vision for Alberta’s post-secondary future. 

Students were also concerned with transfer credits, transparency and the financial strain on schools after last year’s provincial budget cuts. 

Kusmu said that Hancock seemed to take the findings seriously during their meeting.

“I thought it went really well. [Hancock] continued to reiterate the importance for him to relearn a lot of things that are happening in the post-secondary file,” Kusmu said. “He said this specifically, ‘I need to unpack the 40-year-old notions I have of what it’s like to be a student in Alberta.’ ”

Kusmu said that Ignite members pitched policy ideas to the minister to see where they had common ground. 

“We have some concerns over mandatory non-instructional fees. I’m particularly frustrated that we have seen little to no action from the government in the past four years on this file,” Kusmu said. “But the overall theme of our meeting this weekend was ‘I’m listening and I need to be caught up on these issues.’ ”

Hancock’s press secretary, Craig Loewen, said Hancock attended the meeting to understand the concerns students and their representatives have with government policy.

“There are some key concerns in [IPSE] about accessibility, affordability and mandatory non-instructional fees. The concerns were the costs of the fees and the accountability of the fees,” Loewen said. “We are in the midst of doing a full tuition review as well as a funding formula review for the universities. The MNIFs are going to be a part of that bigger conversation as well.”

Loewen said the minister’s office recognizes that students are not happy with everything, but he believes student opinion is positive overall.

“Our view here is that students are quite happy with the system. There are certainly ongoing concerns — as there always have been­ — about the debt levels, accessibility, and so on,” Loewen said. “I’d say there’s generally a joint view that participation rates should be a bit better. Our view is that we’d like to have that participation rate up regardless of what kind of work you plan to do.”

Kusmu said Ignite Alberta will not conduct a survey every year, but will look to re-engage with students once IPSE becomes out-of-date.

“I think we have a very relevant snapshot on what students are thinking about now for perhaps the next three or five years,” Kusmu said. “But I think perhaps in the future, this needs to be reignited — no pun intended — to really update ourselves on what students are thinking.”