Public advocacy for public funding of public institutions: Speak up, Albertans!

At Arts Squared, we believe firmly in the principle of public advocacy for public funding of public institutions. A culture is defined by all of its voices coming together to assert what matters to them, and to discuss it together, and non-institutional and informal venues are as vital to this as more formal, institutional venues such as Parliament or provincial legislatures or university classrooms. Part of what we’re arguing is that we need to ensure that our university classrooms remain venues to which all have equal access so that they are places in which Albertans can acquire knowledge and develop ideas and skills that permit them to become — amongst many other things! — engaged citizens.

The petition to Premier Alison Redford and the Government of Alberta gives us all one opportunity to stand up as engaged citizens in regard to the issue of sustainable public funding for post-secondary education in Alberta. You can do that simply by signing your name. But you can also do so by using the “comment” box on the petition to speak up on the issue. Every comment on the petition contributes importantly to this public campaign by allowing us all to speak up, as individuals, to articulate the reasons for our commitment to a common cause. This is one of the ways in which we all make our culture. We therefore urge you to join the campaign. Please use the petition to have your say on these important issues! 

Here are just a few of the wonderful recent contributions to these vital public issues that you can find on the petition site:

Premier Klein characterized educators (and other providers of human services such as doctors, nurses, etc.) as societal “takers” in contrast to resource extractors such as the oil industry which he categorized as “givers.” He is also on the record as indicating that Alberta could get all of the educated people it needed from other jurisdictions such as Ontario. This says volumes about what the former premier and the Tory party of the day thought about education and educational institutions. That may have changed a bit under Premier Stelmach and perhaps that change will continue under Premier Redford but with the Wild Rose party pushing from the right anyone who believes in the need for a strong public education system had better make their views known. As a former teacher/department head who had to deal with the topsy-turvy and frankly adversarial educational policy of the Klein years I strongly advocate for a stable, long term funding policy that will allow institutions to do long-term planning and will maximize education dollars. The “now you see it – now you don’t” policy followed since the Getty years has wasted money, hurt students and teachers, hampered economic and social growth, and prevented Alberta educational institutions from reaching their potential. The Tories seemed to be mired in the “Albertans as hewers of wood and drawers of water” (or in this case oil) model and have completely overlooked the fact that the true movers and shakers in the 21st Century will be those who “hew and draw” information and not finite natural resources. Without a strong educational system Alberta is doomed to be the neo-colony of some more advanced power. It doesn’t much matter if our colonial master is the US or China — failing to provide our own 21st Century economy simply means we’re providing others with the raw materials they need to built their own societies and further their own prosperity. Everyone of the formerly developing countries such as China, Korea and now India have realized that education and especially higher education was vital if they were to play a bigger role on the world stage AND provide for their citizens. This seems to be a lesson that the natural ruling party of Alberta still hasn’t learned.”

Good education is the foundation of future growth. Let us not be shortsighted.

. . . Much of our workforce is immigrants and it is extremely important to continue encouraging such ambitious, immigrant students to Alberta because as the years go by more and more of the workforce will need to be of that nature. The [number] of children being born in the last 20 years will not be enough to meet the retiring population’s needs. We will need every one of those students coming to Alberta (and thus, increasing the chances of them staying within the province to find work) to help bolster our economy 10 – 30 years down the road. Finally, the University is a public service and as such, it needs to remain public and available to the public. By forcing it to look to private sectors for money, the University may, in effect, have to privatize various areas, thus reducing the number of potential students who could afford to enroll in such sectors. That is not what a university is for, or at least it has not been that way for 100 years. We should not be going backwards in time by restricting more and more students from accessing the University because of tuition costs, privatized sectors, or a dulled reputation, but rather finding new ways to encourage and invite even more students to its doors. Cutting funding is not the best way to achieve any of the above goals.

Access to quality education is the equalizer in our society. Sustainable funding is key to quality education at all levels.

. . . Stop raising tuition: public education is a right, not a privilege for the rich. Too many students have to work while attending university just to cover their tuition, which inhibits their progress and enjoyment of the experience. Prevent the laying off of long-time administrative staff due to budget cuts: what are these people supposed to do? And, stop expecting the University to run like a business. It is not a business, it is an institute of higher learning, and it should be treated differently than, for instance, a major oil company that only cares about profits. Put the focus back on students, and on teaching, especially in the arts and humanities, because the U of A is not a trade school, it is not a corporation, it is a place where people can learn about life and the human condition, and you cannot put a price-tag on that. Please give the U of A more money, earmarked especially for the arts, humanities, professors, etc, so that the U of A can be the great centre of learning it should be, and not the money-making business it has turned into. Thank you for listening.

You’ll find the petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/854/477/873/.

We hope you will seize the opportunity to join us in this campaign to influence the budget to be announced in about 10 days’ time by Premier Alison Redford’s government. As the University’s President Indira Samarasekera noted at a University meeting yesterday, “last-minute changes” to budgets are always a possibility.

 

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