Alberta’s inability to think forward

It’s a snowy Saturday afternoon. The roads in Edmonton are shyte. Tonight I’m performing with Amelia (fiddler) and The Celtic Fiddlers of Edmonton for Robbie Burns Night at the Edmonton Scottish Society. It’s 2:20 pm, and other than getting a haircut at 10:00 this morning, I’ve been in bed sleeping…sheesh. I think grey days can make you feel sluggish.

At the U of Alberta yesterday morning, the Board of Governors passed a series of back-breaking tuition increases on students registering for the 2003-04 school year. Who do you blame? It’s easy: our provincial government. Note that they have cut provincial funding per student in half in the past 20 years. For every dollar increase in the price of oil, our government pots $108 million dollars. For every 10 increase in natural gas prices, it pots $163 million. The last provincial budget assumed oil prices would benchmark at $20US/barrel, and natural gas at $3/1000 cubic feet. As of Friday, 17 January 2002, oil was at $33.91US/barrel, and natural gas at $5.54US/1000 cubic feet.

The government’s standard whine is that “there isn’t any more money”, and “we’ve got to come to grips with (fill in the blank)”. Consider that ours is far and away the richest province in Canada. Our university administration says it must work hard to convince voters of the importance of university education, but I hear and read this plea yearly, and see no efforts made, except by the students. Read how many of them feel today.

Recently our government announced $105 million to upgrade video lottery terminals in this province. BTW, gambling is so important in Alberta that it has its own department, Alberta Gaming. Advanced Education, on the other hand, does not have its own ministry – it it lumped in with Alberta Learning, where the primary focus is and always shall be, K-12. Salaries for academic staff at the U of A, when adjusted for inflation, rose 1.5% between 1991 and 2001. Long-term projects such as new, badly needed buildings and infrastructure upgrading are on hold. Desparately needed upgrades to elementary and secondary schools across Alberta are “on hold”, because “there is no more money”. The same mantra is chanted for other major infrastructure projects on hold at the moment, such as roads.

It is not a huge stretch to see where Alberta’s priorities are at the moment, and beyond. Many of our cabinet ministers, MLAs, and our Premier, never had much formal education. However, some due, with PhDs and MDs are in the inner circle – one might think they understand why post-secondary education is important. What I can never fathom is how, collectively, they cannot see the long term benefits in investing strongly in all forms of post-secondary education. Of course the easy answer is that they don’t see any collective immediate benefit to the economy. Translation: Unless you are studying in a faculty that will bring wealth to the province upon your graduation (i.e., land you a job immediately), it’s not worth the government’s long term interest. Yet historically we know that advancement in civilization and society begins in places of higher learning, where new discoveries, theories, philosophies, and creativity emerge.

On the Premier’s web site is the quote: “Find out what this government is doing to ensure Alberta remains the best place in the world to live. ” I’m still looking.

Of course, all of this is just a few of my thoughts. I could be wrong, and I like cold toilet seats.

3 Responses to “Alberta’s inability to think forward”

  1. Stephen Abram Says:

    Randy:

    The tuition increases are part of the university business model. Since Ontario is graduating a double cohort of students this year there’s a one time opportunity to raise tuition across the country and feel no enrollment drop. Cynical yes, but it’s what’s driving them to do it. Take a look at proposals at Dal and U Vic. Pure greed. Screw over the profitable first year students through very large, low quality first year classes and then fail them in later years on purpose to get class sizes down to what aging profs will accept. I feel sorry for what the conservatives in Ontario have wrought for these kids who have to live with the anomally.

  2. Kim Says:

    Randy! I wish I had read this entry yesterday – I think I would have enjoyed the celtic fiddling. Who am I kidding – you probably couldn’t have paid me enough to leave the house last night. Keep on rockin’ in the free world, K

  3. stuart Says:

    Add in primary and secondary education, health care and the funding of public libraries. The only recent headline-making issue Ralph Klein brought to the forefront was his difficulty with the Kyoto agreement and its impact on revenue GENERATING business. Societies are often measured by how they judge their most afflicted. Ralph, who are you listening to? More importantly, who do you represent?

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