Letters to Journal Roundup: March & April 2013

Courses are portable

Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has said that courses between post-secondary institutions are not portable and that students need to retake much of their credit if they transfer to another institution.

He used as examples students taking first-year introductory philosophy or political science courses at the University of Lethbridge not being able to transfer those courses to the University of Alberta.

I am a student adviser in the U of A faculty of arts, and we regularly transfer student’s course credits from Alberta post-secondary colleges and universities to our programs. The two University of Lethbridge courses Lukaszuk mentioned do indeed transfer to the U of A.

We automatically consider any course offered by another university in Alberta, Canada or internationally for credit in our programs. Even if there is no directly equivalent course, we will use an unspecified course number to grant credit.

The Alberta transfer guide outlines transfer agreements between Alberta colleges and universities. The guide is online and accessible to students and the public.

The transfer of credits between universities is not within the mandate of the Alberta transfer guide, but these courses are automatically considered for transfer when a student moves between institutions.

Lukaszuk needs to recognize that transfer of credits between colleges and universities, and between universities, is extensive and regularly practised.

Barbara Maywood, University of Alberta

Where’s proof of problems?

Re: “Universities under pressure; Lukaszuk’s remarks add to confusion and resentment,” by Graham Thomson, Opinion, March 26.

Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has presented no evidence to support claims he has made of problems with post-secondary education. Public policy should be guided by sound research. Instead, we’ve heard inaccurate, uninformed statements about what post-secondary institutions are doing.

Lukaszuk has made a huge issue out of student mobility among institutions, but there is no evidence this is a problem. Obstacles to the transfer of course credits were removed long ago for courses that are really equivalent.

Library resources are already shared (the NEOS system). And the jobs he and Alison Redford are talking about are trained for in NAIT, SAIT, Grant MacEwan and other post-secondary institutions that don’t do all the same things that a postgraduate degree-granting research university does.

You can’t eliminate departments from faculties and consolidate in them in one place or another, because students need to take a broad selection of courses from arts and sciences to complete any degree program. When you major in political science, you don’t take all of your credits in poli-sci; you take many other courses too.

We are not reassured by forthcoming discussion of non-negotiables with post-secondary presidents. If Lukaszuk was serious about consulting with institutions about concerns, he would have done it before issuing mandate letters backed up by threats. He has created a mess and should resign.

Laurie Adkin, associate professor, University of Alberta

Campus Alberta logo is a no go

Among the fiats recently handed down to Alberta’s post-secondary schools by the Redford government is a requirement that they henceforth issue their correspondence under the logo of Campus Alberta.

I plan to continue to write my letters under the (obsolete?) designation of the University of Alberta, and suggest that colleagues do the same.

Jim Mulvihill, professor of English, University of Alberta

Re: “Mandate letters sent to schools; Lukaszuk insists post-secondary overhaul is ‘non-negotiable,’” the Journal, March 25.

The provincial government’s “non-negotiable” overhaul of Alberta’s post-secondary system is an unprecedented cutback in support of universities and colleges.

Against the advice of leading economists, including those of the Conference Board of Canada, the government refuses to consider new, more stable revenue sources like a sales tax because its election platform did not include such initiatives.

But does the government have a mandate to destroy the autonomy of the post-secondary sector?

The Progressive Conservatives’ 2012 election platform Alberta by Design includes no statement of intention to overhaul the post-secondary sector. Instead, it acknowledges Alberta’s universities, colleges and technical institutes as “world leaders, with innovative programming, excellent teaching and groundbreaking research.” It promises to “attract, foster, encourage, support and improve” aspects of the system.

It say nothing about a “non-negotiable” overhaul, let alone one that now must be done without planning time, consultation or long-term design. Is this failure to disclose the best we can expect from our leaders, that having failed to seek a mandate from voters for radical change to our colleges and universities, they can simply assume they have one?

Jo-Ann Wallace, Edmonton

U of A crucial to economy

Re: “Redford gave educators heads up on overhaul,” the Journal, March 20.

Slashing university budgets is wasteful and short-sighted if our goal is to stabilize the provincial economy.

A report last year by the Alberta School of Business estimated the University of Alberta had a $12.3-billion impact on the provincial economy for 2009-10, or five per cent of the provincial GDP.

This is roughly four times the benefit that would be generated if every NHL team were based in Edmonton and every one of them was having a very good year.

Every dollar Albertans invest in our universities turns over many times inside the economy, generating financial benefits as well as many scientific, cultural and social advantages.

These benefits come from having a big, thriving, broadly based, creative university, not a stripped-down adjunct to private industry.

If we really want to stabilize and diversify Alberta’s economy, the proven way is to invest in public goods like post-secondary education.

Amy Kaler, Edmonton

Gutting our universities

Re: “Big changes likely from U of A cuts; Deans explore 20% what-if budget hit,” the Journal, March 14.

Alberta universities have never fully recovered from Klein-era rollbacks. And for the last several years, the “increase” in the budget has been zero per cent, significantly below the rate of inflation, year after year, while the government also has pressured institutions to increase enrolments.

Year after year there have been cuts and more cuts. There is no fat to trim; the cutting now is meat and bone.

This government has decided to gut the university system, which Alberta taxpayers bought and paid for.

At a time when we most need to diversify our economy, and when the best way to do that is with a well-educated population, why does the government want to reduce our universities to insignificance?

What is the government’s agenda? Does it want to force Albertans to leave the province for a university education?

The university system will not survive the government’s continued mismanagement of this most precious and essential resource.

Stephen Reimer, Edmonton

A history of cuts

Without going into the often arcane details of university financing, two things stand out about the cut in post-secondary funding announced in the March 7 budget.

First, you have to go back to 1972 to find the last decrease of this magnitude (6.8 per cent this year, just over eight per cent then).

The only other year in the 105-year history of higher education in Alberta to see a larger cut was 1934, during the Great Depression.

It is interesting to compare the circumstances of those years with what we have now.

In 1934, unemployment in Alberta was more than 30 per cent, farmers were leaving the land to avoid starvation and the government was getting ready to default on its bond payments.

In 1972, crude oil was selling for $7 a barrel, conventional oil supplies seemed to be running out and the oilsands plants had yet to turn a profit. The baby boom generation had passed through their post-secondary years and the demand for spaces at universities and colleges across the province was falling.

Rod Macleod, professor emeritus, University of Alberta

Re: “Cuts will bring changes at local colleges, universities,” the Journal, March 9.

When Premier Alison Redford announced the “bitumen bubble” had left us $6 billion short of predicted oil and gas revenues, she insisted we had to put Alberta’s finances on a more stable footing.

It is impossible to reconcile this statement with the recent decision to reduce operating grants to post-secondary institutions by $147 million, or seven per cent. The economic rationale for austerity is debatable, but there is consensus among economists and leaders of OECD nations that cuts to post-secondary education should be among the last made. Yet advanced education took the deepest cut of all.

Universities strengthen our social fabric and economic output. If we want a diversified economy, where energy companies are complemented by software designers, farmers, innovators, filmmakers, philosophers and biotechnicians, then right now we should be increasing, not cutting, funds for post-secondary institutions.

Eddy Kent, Edmonton

Investing in Alberta’s future

Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk says, “Because of generous funding in the past, the colleges and universities were never forced to look for savings.”

I’ve taught at the University of Alberta for 13 years. I’ve taught people who have become business leaders, engineers, doctors, dentists, journalists, writers, scientists, police officers and musicians. I’ve won a teaching award for doing so.

I am proud to have contributed to their lives in this way, and to the life of Alberta. They are Alberta’s future.

My faculty, forced to look for savings, has been cut by more than $1 million in each of the last three years — that’s before the 2013 budget cuts. My large department has been cut so much that its staff are now a skeleton staff. I see my students in a small shared office with no phone.

I almost invariably have to work evenings and some weekends. For all this, I am paid considerably less than an equivalent elementary teacher, and I am laid off for at least two months each summer — more savings.

During those summers I have presented papers, done research, given seminars, all as an unemployed person. I do so because I want to improve my teaching and my knowledge, and because if I don’t I might not be re-employed each year.

How do we get it across that unless Alberta properly invests in post-secondary education and in the people who give their all to educate, there is no healthy future for a post-oil Alberta?

Mark Morris, University of Alberta

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