A bus-load of students from the universities of Calgary and Lethbridge joined hundreds more from the University of Alberta and descended on the steps of the provincial legislature in defiance of market modifier and compulsory fee proposals March 18.
"I think it's a really cool experience," said Lauren Webber, U of C Students' Union president-elect. "I am so impressed with how many U of L kids are here and it shows our support for the U of A, who is organizing such a big event. It's my first attempt at solidarity with Albertan institutions. It's really cool."
Webber noted that this event leads up to the, currently scheduled, April 12 U of C Board of Governors meeting where they will decide on tuition increase proposals as part of the university's budget for next year.
"It's a big 'please don't let the administration do this.' It's hugely important that the government supports our side and not our administration's proposals," said Webber.
On the corner of the legislature U of C and U of L students merged with the mass column that had marched from the U of A. Within minutes, in the cold of Edmonton, chants of "5-5-0, we say no" could be heard reverberating off the front of the provincial building.
U of A second-year design student Sarah Kehler said the $27,000 she had saved before university is already gone and that she will have no choice but to "turn to loans and beg mom for money."
Kehler noted that "a lot of people showed up" but that she would have liked to have seen more there.
U of C SU vice-president external Kay She was happy with the turnout.
"We realize it's Thursday and most people have class and academic commitments and to the students who took time out of their day to do this . . . it was great to see their support,'' said She. "It was so important for our U of C students to band with the U of A students and the U of L students. These proposals, if they go through, they will set the precedent for post-secondary education in Alberta. We are stopping it now."
Jeremy Girard, president of the U of L's SU, shared his happiness that 17 students came all the way from Lethbridge to lend their support.
"I'm actually really stoked that we got the U of L so well represented here," said Girard.
"We saw a lot of angry students today. Students are voicing their opinions quite well."
Girard gave special credit to campus newspapers for bringing issues to the forefront as well as the ways in which the SU's are interacting with their students.
"Students' voices are being heard," said Girard.
Beverly Eastham, chair of CAUS and VP external for the U of A SU, said the students who showed up were additionally impressive "because it was quite a cold day here."
According to Eastham the next step for CAUS is to try and respond to Alberta Advanced Education and Technology minister Doug Horner's challenge for the student groups to come up with drafts to regulate potential fee increases.
"I think it was good. I talked to a lot of students who had midterms or who have jobs," said Eastham. "For every student who was there, there was probably one or two students who would have liked to have been there. There was a lot of support on campus for the march."
Eastham said U of L student Jenn Prosser was instrumental in bringing the U of L and U of C on board for the march.
"I understood what the U of A was doing. I've worked with Beverly in the past. It's something I really wanted to support her with," said Prosser. "I do believe that students have a voice and I believe that there are a lot of students who really care."
Prosser noted that she and others continue to hear about student apathy, that students don't vote, don't care and wonder why they should even bother.
"The fact of the matter is that students aren't apathetic, they are just really busy, they have jobs, they have school, they have extracurricular activities and they have social lives," said Prosser. "It's going to affect their education and it's going to affect the future of Alberta. I wanted to empower students from the U of L and the U of C to join the students in Edmonton to show our MLAs that students all across Alberta care about their education and are willing to say so."
The air of optimism was maintained among U of L students 13 hours after leaving Lethbridge by bus.
"It was cool to see the dedication of people coming out . . . especially driving 5-6 hours," said U of L first-year student Jesse Blencowe. "It's cool to be able to stand up for what you believe in. For the government to take advantage of people anyway, it's not right."
"To end it on such a high note is really optimistic. The waiting game starts with the Ministry," said Girard. "I don't think this is the end of it. We need to continue voicing our opinions."
"I think [Minister Horner] certainly commended students on their passion," said Ministry of Advanced Education and Technology director of communications Kim Capstick.
Capstick said the issues students raised were not a surprise because of the "consistent communications" between Minister Horner and post-secondary students.
"We understand that these concerns exist and we look forward to working with students," said Capstick.
Capstick reminds students that any proposals are still "hypothetical" at this point and that Horner will seek student involvement when more concrete numbers are established.
Beverly Eastham was originally referred to as "Beverly Easton" in print. The Gauntlet apologizes for this error.