The Council of Alberta University Students picked Mike Selnes, the University of Calgary's Students' Union vice-president external, as its new leader last week.
CAUS is a student-driven organization that provides a unified voice for the province's three universities.
"It was formed in 1986 when the individual student unions recognized that they would represent their students better united than they would individually," said CAUS staff member Duncan Wojtaszek.
Last year, the SU spent $27,660 on a CAUS membership fee. The cost varies year-to-year based on the number of full time students at the institution. Despite the cost, Wojtaszek feels the organization is effective.
"CAUS was at the forefront of calling for changes to affordability and accessibility in Alberta," Wojtaszek said. "We were the group calling for tuition freezes in 2004. We were a group who was calling for increased investment by the province and Advanced Education for the past three years and while we still feel there [are] significant challenges in the system, certainly we've been effective in altering the system in government policy."
As chair, Selnes will be the official representative for CAUS, attending meetings, doing any formal letter-writing and media interviews on behalf of the organization. Wojtaszek is the only full time staff member and focuses on policy research and development. Selnes agreed that the CAUS membership is well worth the cost to students.
"The big reason why CAUS is effective is because when I speak as CAUS chair, I speak on behalf of over 60,000 university students in Alberta," said Selnes. "It's important that we have a united voice for students across the province because at times there can be differences in the way students in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge think, so it gives us a venue to actually come together and present a united opinion on any issue, as well as lobby the government together. The worst thing that could happen is if somebody in Edmonton is going to the provincial government and saying one thing, where as somebody in Calgary is saying another thing and somebody in Lethbridge is saying another thing. The government will not respect students' opinions as much as if we can actually have a unified voice."
In the past, there has been speculation that a leadership role in a lobby group--provincial or federal--has often led to too much time away from home campus issues.
"I'd like to say it will add to my role as VP external here," said Selnes. "Post-secondary education falls under provincial jurisdiction, and so any direct funding that comes for post-secondary education will happen through the provincial government. I figured having a strong voice from the University of Calgary dealing with the minister of Advanced Education on any decisions that are made actually makes my role stronger here as the VP external. It will be a significant time commitment, but it's one that I've planned for and prepared for."
Like the Students' Unions executives CAUS represents, both the leaders and the goals change annually. While still early in the year, Selnes said they have already set three main strategic goals.
"We're hoping to develop a strong media campaign to correspond with the election, if it happens," said Selnes. "Even if the election does not happen this year, the framework will be in place to put in a strong media campaign [in the future]. We're hoping to influence the government to take post-secondary seriously and listen to some of our initiatives. We've developed three main priorities for CAUS for the year--which will be bringing tuition back into legislation. We also want to develop more housing for students, and we've decided the best way to do this is to develop more university residences, something that was agreed on by the U of A, U of C and U of L. We've also talked about continuing to ask for reforms in the student loan and finance system, so more funding for students with less debt."