Alberta Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt briefs student leaders about Bill 19 at the Legislature yesterday (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta).

Alberta’s Legislature returned to work yesterday as Rachel Notley’s NDP Government got the ball rolling with a bill that will keep a lid on post-secondary tuition and ensure foreign students don’t get stuck with unscheduled tuition increases part way through their studies.

This may be a long way from what’s really needed to strengthen our society and ease the crushing debt burden faced by students – a national free-tuition program like those in many countries, combined with the recognition that international students are assets who ought not be treated as if they were cash cows.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley addressing the NDP Convention on Sunday in Edmonton (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

And it’s no guarantee some future government wouldn’t go right back to tuition inflation and the debt trap for non-elite students in the name of fiscal prudence. That is the neoliberal zeitgeist, after all, and there’s not much that can be done about it in a democracy except getting out to vote.

Still, Bill 19, the Act to Improve the Affordability and Accessibility of Post-Secondary Education, is no bad thing, taking reasonable steps to protect students that are within Canadian provincial jurisdiction.

And the story’s marginally more important than that other staple of first-day legislative reporting: Who’s Sitting Where? Hint: Now that he’s minister of Service Alberta, New Democrat Brian Malkinson is sitting closer to the front. And now that he’s been cast into utter darkness after being accused of ballot stuffing at a constituency meeting, former Conservative Prab Gill has been assigned to the Legislature’s time-out corner, the Independent benches.

Service Alberta Minister Brian Malkinson (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Bill 19 gives the minister of advanced education the ability to regulate tuition and non-instructional fees, including those of foreign students, and to cap average tuition and apprenticeship fee increases to the Consumer Price Index.

International students must be told the entire cost of their education up front under the new rules, Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt told a news conference after the legislation was tabled in the Legislature.

We need to make sure that students can afford to get a good university or college education, and that they have a say in the decisions that affect their education,” Mr. Schmidt said in the government’s news release. “That’s why we did such extensive consultation.”

Indeed, the real shocker was that the government consulted students, faculty and staff so extensively, Mr. Schmidt told reporters, that, “really, students wrote this bill.” More traditional Canadian political parties only allow car dealers and other generous donors to political action committees to write their own legislation, of course.

Former Conservative MLA Prab Gill in happier times on the steps of the Alberta Legislature (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

More than 4,000 students, teachers and staff members responded to an online survey and took part in focus groups.

Other provisions in the bill, which will amend the Post-Secondary Learning Act, include confirming the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary as a university, allowing Red Deer College and Grande Prairie College to transition into universities without further legislation being required, and ensuring there are at least two student representatives on the boards of all public post-secondary institutions in the province.

The bill also gives the minister the power to “better define the mandates of the institutions in order to continue to encourage collaboration and innovation across the system,” which could very well turn out to be the most important aspect of this legislation.

If passed – which, of course, it will be, as the NDP has a majority in the House – the changes will take effect on Feb. 1, 2019.

Alberta’s NDP: Still hiding its light under a bushel

Readers of this blog have been sending me notes all day asking why they can’t find the recording of Premier Rachel Notley’s speech to the NDP Convention on Sunday in Edmonton on Facebook or anywhere else.

I can’t explain why, with an asset like Ms. Notley, the Alberta NDP hides its light under a bushel. It’s not a new problem. And it needs to be fixed.

In the mean time, I can offer readers a copy of Premier Notley’s speaking notes from Sunday. This needs to be, as they say in Speech Writing School, checked against delivery. Ms. Notley’s delivery, which was terrific, is in a video somewhere. Maybe eventually someone will get around to posting it somewhere where we can all watch it.

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  1. When I was a postgrad student from Canada in the UK in 1969, university tuition was free there for their students and they got 6 quid a week to live on. No luxury, but basically free. It certainly is not now – the same thatcherite neoliberal forces that privatised public wealth in the ’80s at giveaway prices got rid of mere fripperies like educating the young for the future of the country and replaced it with student loans repayable for essentially ever. And the rentier class rejoiced – no more shaggy-haired students agitating for labour unions. No, now an income stream instead – what genius! Quite unlike the continent where if you can get accepted, tuition is still free or cheap in many places. Money trumps all in the Anglo world.

    In the ’60s, Canada was rich enough that university students who managed to get summer jobs could count on making perhaps half of their annual expenses of tuition and room and board. Student loans came along to assist with the rest and a means test often meant needy students got a bit of a bursary as well. Tuition and room and board ran me about $1500 a year in 1968/69 for engineering with scholarships, summer jobs and a total gift of about $2K from my family over six years and two degrees prior to Blighty, I escaped any loans. I was a lab assistant for three years for second year physics students, which was multiple hours marking assignments three times a week for 50 students and running a lab once a week, for the princely pay of $200 a year. Slave labour of the type whose success was noted for future implementation.

    University lecturers or profs were not paid overly well, and I do not suppose department heads were rich either. They certainly did not act that way. But as time went on, various PhD types agitated for industry-equivalent salaries, and the administrators certainly felt they should be paid well in excess of that received by mere profs, while contributing little themselves beyond rules, extorting alumni for donations in a pep rally manner while becoming ever more expensive parasitical overhead. Enter the part-time lecturer cum lab assistant, someone with academic qualifications who could be persuaded to “teach” courses for next-to-nothing, while desperately hoping for consideration to join the full-time faculty as retirements happened. Hah! Administration and tenured professional staff costs kept on rising to feed the natural lifestyle of pampered academics and the Admin that lorded it over them. Provincial governments were lobbied for ever more loot to keep the facade from tottering into oblivion. Then – the jackpot! Foreign students eager to join the neolib gravy-train could be charged over the top tuition fees. I know a gentleman who runs this current day, um, chimera for universities around here. Freeland’s name was mud for stirring up the urbane chap running the newly-liberated enlightened state of Saudi Arabia and recalling its overseas students from Canada. I mean, someone has to pay the over half-million salary of university presidents and the couple of hundred grand a year each tenured prof expects as divine right, plus meaty pensions after retirement for those world tours and snowbird winters. All the dirty work of first and second year over-attended lectures is done by underpaid lecturers, and neither they nor the actual profs ever had teacher training, so the result is mush; people cannot spell or even construct logical sentences. Mediocrity reigns. Put up student tuition beyond inflation decided the Council of Canadian University Administrators (or whatever they call themselves) , let students get loans for future indentured servitude and the pampered classes can enjoy a lifestyle unknown to most ordinary people divvying up meagre income to meet the various monthly rents demanded for everything by the rentiers. The people are all turned into drudges with little prospect for improvement. It’s a familiar story, and all the big boys get in on the action; Trump University in the US for one example.

    The aristocrats of academe have it easy and rub shoulders with the captains of industry and omnipresent accounting firm “consultant” leeches, witness Morneau’s dollar a year Advisory Committee on budgeting. Yes, a buck a year and all the parliamentary cafeteria sandwiches you can stuff down on the occasional trips to Ottawa, where our betters decide how to run the country the neoliberal way. All jolly good chaps and ladies, determined to do the very best for the country as they experience it. And the way they see it is not the way your average Canadian sees it. The privileged are so far removed from the everyday trials and tribulations of the common man as to to be laughable spooks. Meanwhile, the mass media such as it is, prints the usual rubbish about being good citizens, advocates for constant unsustainable growth at the behest of corporate interests, wails at livable minimum wages, and administrators masquerading as academics piously agree so that their own bread may be well-buttered in perpetuity. Unable to organize due to zealous oversight, the average prole is badly paid, seeks solace in social media and dope, and for the most part merely exists to pay the tithe for the non-productive rich to lord it over them while advancing ever deeper into debt. Because rich people are better people, exhibit superior intellect due to better genes and higher intelligence, and can be relied upon to promulgate far-seeing policies for societal good at all times – we all know that as we tug our forelocks, and to professed Conservatives, well, it’s just so obvious no explanation required.

    Notley’s step is a minor one; I’m sure foreign students everywhere will flood Alberta in the secure knowledge that their huge tuitions will remain stable over their years at university. It’s a form of foreign aid, compassion and downright munificence on her part. We’re so far down the rathole of maintaining privilege that minor steps like Notley’s are regarded as somehow enlightened and even praised.

    As with people, there is a provincial pecking order. Canadians give Alberta, at the top of the provincial heap, a free pipeline, petro-subsidies and the ability for its citizens to not pay anything so sordid as provincial tax. Ms Notley, having found that having a major snit now and then, accompanied by blackmail of neighbouring BC in a most childish manner, can get what she wants from the rest of us, and can now relax enough to pretend that she’s a bit of a social democrat, while showing Kenney and other graspers how the system can be manipulated for local and personal gain.

    Excuse me for wondering what this country is supposed to be all about. Everything is so gerrymandered in favour of privilege that the freakish times we live in have been made to appear normal by paid apologists. So get back to being a coffee-jockey with your arts and humanities degree and suck it up as you work through life with little hope and no pension, no rights of work, no accolade for having contributed to society. This isn’t a country for its denizens – it’s an organization for the already wealthy to siphon every last penny from the pockets of the masses into theirs, while providing soma to cover the pain of a useless existence. And with resources raped from the Earth at irreplaceable rates, species croaking like flies, forests turned into poor farmland, CO2 going ballistic – well, the world’s not going to continue for very long like this. It cannot. Numbed to the truth, people squabble over scraps, and rush lemming-like to oblivion, their minds filled with fake left-right differences as is their wont to deflect them from the reality of being exploited. And no doubt deserve their fate. Rachel Notley “we must sell more bitumen to make a loonie a barrel royalty to fund and implement future environmental policies” is as illogical and out-of-her-mind as any raving robber baron, I’m afraid. So why not cut foreigners a deal on a university education, eh? Sure, why not. Makes as much sense as all the other BS we endure.

    1. Profs don’t normally get paid a ‘couple hundred grand’… Not when 1/3 to 1/2 of them are ‘part time’ employees.
      A simple search shows annual salaries (but every AB public faculty collective agreement is available online)

      Inflammatory rhetoric and dog whistles (‘divine right’? ‘Meaty pensions’? ) undermines your other arguments.

      (BTW, that’s ‘Negotiated’ pensions)

  2. This is a great first step and congratulations to the NDP Advanced Ed Minister. However, the bigger problems are universities are heavily larded with management and have been colonized by big business. Until they are forced to focus on being independent teaching and research centers students will continue to be exploited.

  3. Capping tuition increases to CPI, is a better plan than the previous three years with tuition freezes and a government backfill (2% increase to base funding) .

    I am not defending university (mis)managers, but I wonder if an increase based on CPI, necessarily covers the actual cost increases the institutions will have (salary grids as an example). And post-secondaries love their special projects and capital expenditures.

    On the other hand, it looks frugal / measured / thoughtful enough and there probably aren’t enough votes in the post-secondary ecosystem to support much else…better to have a flashy health care funding plan for the election… my prediction anyway.

  4. So, while I agree tuition ought not to be a barrier to otherwise-capable post-secondary students getting an education, I don’t agree that free college or university tuition is the answer. I feel strongly that post-secondary students need some skin in the game, so they are motivated to buckle down and work instead of just partying (of course this is a stereotype, but it is also a rhetorical device). There is probably a balance point somewhere between the usurious tuition rates we see today, and free tuition, that requires some investment by the student in their education without saddling them with crippling debt at graduation. I, for one, don’t want my tax dollars to fully support the education of yet another corporate lawyer, for example.

    I don’t know where that balance falls, but I’m sure it could be figured out. Maybe a system that links tuition to anticipated earning potential with the degree being earned? On top of that, we need a better system of student financial assistance.

    1. “Skin in the game” is a fascist construction from pre-WW II Italy. The idea was only those with an investment in society could be trusted to have any say or rights and that is no rhetorical device.
      Perhaps if your corporate lawyer was given ‘free’ training he or she might have more loyalty to society and the common good as opposed to the sociopathic mentality encouraged now. And that’s no rhetorical device either.
      Oh, and one more rant. Studies done for the Worth Commission in the early 70s showed that with a progressive income tax system, the average extra tax paid by the aggregate of all University and post secondary graduates would completely pay off the extra costs of ‘free’ post secondary within three years. But the conservatives killed all that long ago.
      The first step in stopping the Trumps and Kenneys of this world is to rid your vocabulary of pernicious and unempirical concepts like partying students and welfare cheats.

      1. To @anon: to call me fascist is insulting. I’m a card-carrying NDP member & one-time candidate, a unionized health care professional, and a pro-worker socialist.

        As to the issue of post-secondary education affordability, clearly there can be no argument that people go to university, college or technical institute with the intention to set a more fulfilling and rewarding—and it’s not always just about materially rewarding—career path than would be possible with only a high school graduation certificate. Some degrees have more earning potential than others—Fine Arts vs. Business Admin, for example—so why not bring that fast or into the decision-making mix on tuition?

        My point was that asking students to invest some of their own resources in their education, as a motivator to put in the effort & commitment to succeed, in not an entirely unreasonable concept, provided there is a balanced approach that lowers economic barriers.

        Some parts of that approach can also fall outside of the education system; raising minimum wages for all, including for students in the workforce, is part of that approach. That’s why we reject the KenneyCons’ regressive notions of lowering minimum wages for younger workers.

    1. I’m sure if he had been a UCP MLA, Mr. Schmidt would never have criticized anyone for wearing a MAGA hat, tight or otherwise, Ken. I will probably have a few words to say about this. Leastways, I have a post forming in my head. But not tonight, as I was out and not back till late. Tomorrow, maybe. DJC

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