There have been more exciting years to be a student journalist. But even if 2006 was mostly void of scandal it was full of post-secondary education promises for the future.
Provincial politicians listened to students in a major post-secondary education review and made huge promises--even delivering on some of them. Closer to home, university administration announced an ambitious goal of adding 7,000 new student spaces by 2010 in an attempt to meet increasing demand, propel themselves into the media spotlight and take strides to repair an image tarnished by years of dismal ratings in Maclean's magazine.
Of 2006 promises and announcements, here are my top 6 of '06:
1Provincial politicians finally listen to students, sort of
After years of steadily rising tuition and steadily declining quality of education, the provincial government began a post-secondary education review. Results were released in the A Learning Alberta report in June.
Though the report wasn't groundbreaking, it gave students hope that provincial politicians were actually listening and was followed by a new tuition policy, which rolls tuition back to 2004 levels and ties future tuition increases to the rate of inflation. Many student leaders still believe 2004 tuition to be unaffordable, but at least it's a start.
New Premier Ed Stelmach replaced interim Advanced Education Minister Denis Herard with Doug Horner and changed his title to Minister of Advanced Education and Technology in December. Horner hasn't done anything significant for PSE yet, but students can be cautiously optimistic that he will get down to business in an attempt to uphold King Ralph's lofty promise of making Alberta the best and most affordable province in which to get an education.
2 University administration listens to students, kind of
Much like the provincial government, University of Calgary administration chose 2006 as their year to realize that declining quality of education and cost increases make for unhappy students.
In 2006 the university rolled out initiatives to improve the undergraduate experience including revamping the Registrar's Office to create a one-stop-shopping service, rather than having students run across campus to get their classes and finances in order. Combined with the Take Your Place Project to renovate 40 student spaces around campus, it is clear administration is making an effort to listen to undergraduate students.
The mastermind behind many positive changes was special advisor to the president on student life Sheila O'Brien. Hired in 2005, O'Brien was open with undergraduate students in a way seldom seen with higher-level administration. O'Brien's term was only temporary, but hopefully senior administration will continue her tradition of openess when she leaves in March.
3 Nursing school moves to the middle east
In November the U of C announced a deal with the Qatari government to create a state-of-the art nursing school in the oil-rich gulf state.
Located on the Persian Gulf right next to Saudi Arabia, Qatar is ruled by monarchy, with the Al-Tahani family presiding over the country since the mid-19th century.
Though financial numbers are still confidential, nursing dean Dr. Michael Clinton predicted the project will exceed $1 billion and will likely expand to faculties outside of nursing in the near future. Not only is this the first satellite campus for the U of C, the seemingly unrestrained budget is a dean's dream and Clinton--who has been working on the deal in secret for the last two years--will head to Qatar to act as dean when the campus opens next August.
4. Calgary Campus Taylor Family Digital Library
In April the U of C and the province held an elaborate groundbreaking ceremony to announce a $113 million building that would "change the heart of campus forever."
Though no one knew what the building would look like, planners agreed it would be finished in 2008 and include 500 new computers, a new home for the Nickle Arts Museum and be bigger than the current library tower. These goals were lofty and as construction costs soared well beyond the original $113 million pledged by the Alberta government, the completion date was predictably pushed back to 2009.
In December, Calgary philanthropists Don and Ruth Taylor breathed new life into the stalled project with a $25 million donation to the library, which was renamed Taylor Family Digital Library in their honour. Despite the donation, construction has not begun.
5 Capital expansion plan announcement
On the first day of classes in September, university administration held another elaborate groundbreaking ceremony for the Institute for Sustainable Environment, Energy and Economy building--part of a $1.5 billion expansion plan to add 7,000 new spaces by 2010.
There were burgers and fireworks, but much like the digital library grand opening, no solid plan was, or is, in place.
If and when the ISEEE building and its partner building, the Experiential Leaning Centre, secure government funding, have a solid plan and are finally built, the goal of 7,000 new spaces will be a bit more believable. For now it's just a nice dream.
6 U of C faces off with Maclean's magazine
After years of poor rankings in Maclean's magazine, the U of C had enough and withdrew from the University Student Issue, released in June, and from the larger Maclean's University Rankings Issue, released in November. The U of C was not alone, 11 other schools across the country joined them in their boycott, citing inaccurate research methods and an "oversimplified and arbitrary" ranking method.
The battle got ugly when Maclean's editors did what any good journalists would do and used the freedom of information and protection of privacy act to get the information they needed for publication from internal university student surveys.
Granted, there are shortcomings in Maclean's' methods, but students are also losing out on a guide that allows them to easily compare one institution to another. Despite--or because of--their withdrawal, the U of C still ended up near the bottom of surveys in both the June and November issues.