With government officials in the midst of formulating and finalizing the provincial budget, the University of Calgary Students' Union has been in the throes of an annual struggle for provincial funding. Since the last election however, Premier Ralph Klein and his government have publicized intentions to reinvest in post secondary education, a promise the SU intends to see fulfilled.
These plans have thus far emerged as Bill 1, a commitment that the "Government of Alberta recognizes the benefits of post-secondary education."
"We have to keep the pressure on. It's been all talk and no action," reinforced SU President Bryan West. "[Bill 1] is basically Klein's piece of legislative action to improve post secondary education. It could have significant impact on the university."
Currently, all Bill 1 contains is the Alberta Centennial Education Savings Plan Act, a program encouraging parents to save for post-secondary education. The province will put $800 into a Registered Education Savings Plan for each child born in 2005; $500 at birth, with three later $100 contributions.
However, tuition, endowment funds, and the base-operating grant to the university are all examples of other "big ticket" items that could affect the U of C, according to West.
"Our commitment is going to be kept," held David Hancock, minister of the recently formed Ministry of Advanced Education. "This is the premier's bill--it is a symbol of the importance of post-secondary education."
The SU plans to lobby the government both in the private and public arena.
"There are plans for a public awareness campaign, where we will encourage students and other members of the community to email the government," explained West. "Privately, we will be talking to both the Calgary Conservative and Liberal caucuses for support. As well, there is a meeting with the premier planned where representatives from the [four main] student's unions will be present."
West was direct when explaining what the SU will be waiting for.
"Obviously, a tuition freeze is something we would like--and it's been mentioned," he said. "But we're going for a ten per cent increase in the U of C's base operating grant, as well as the initiation of a provincial endowment fund with at least $3 billion."
Hancock was more vague, declining to discuss dollar figures or any specifics, but maintaining that access and affordability to post-secondary institutes will be increased.
"I have met with the presidents of the universities and with various student leaders," said Hancock. "There has been adequate feedback, and there are concrete plans. We are still debating and discussing matters, however."
Leaders of the Council of Alberta University Students were able to meet with Hancock January 19. West however, is still waiting, admitting that the SU is hoping for an early announcement on provincial aims.
"I don't know," West said. "We have to pause and wait for the government to make a move."