What 190 000 potential voters have to say

Since the post-secondary cuts made in the 2010 Alberta budget, students have risen up to express the disappointment and dissatisfaction they feel towards their elected officials. A significant loss of scholarships, bursaries, and loan relief will hurt the lowest socio-economic class the most; discouraging potential students from attending PSE, and benefiting themselves and others. The cuts to institutions’ operating grants mean that those institutions are looking for ways to cut staff, defer maintenance, limit spending on non-priority areas, and pass costs onto students through tuition increases, whether it be differential or not, and made-up fees.

Since the 1990s, the cost of tuition in Alberta has risen 429%. This is an average, and notably the University of Lethbridge sits as having one of the lower tuition rates in the country, something U of L students no doubt boast about and likely cite as a reason for attending this smaller university over the bigger two in the province. Regardless, tuition has increased dramatically, and more often than not it is to make up for poor spending choices and a lack of foresight from the operating provincial government over the past two decades and inconsistent funding to both students and institutions.

Students are no longer taking this quietly. They are noticing the aged buildings, the crowded classrooms, the limited access to lab space, and the limitations on class availability and faculty time. It started small, with pockets of students around Alberta holding protests. The U of C got naked, colleges and TIs baked (un)fortune cookies, and U of L students came out to speak out:

Students are angry. Angry enough to do something.

A Facebook group created the night the budget came out, which now has nearly 9000 members, has posts published from students crying out for higher  voter turnout among youth and plans are being formulated to make that happen. There is a recognized void in voting demographics. Individuals who spend a great deal of time and money to pursue higher education and the betterment of society have been painted as non-voters. Clearly, there are many people who no longer feel this is right and are looking to do something to change that.

It might just be that with 190 000 students in this province, 190 000 potential voters that the 2012 election will see a decidedly different outcome. I hesitate here though, and emphasize the word might.

It is one thing to be angry, upset and frustrated. It is another to put words into action, and voting, exercising our democratic right, is a very powerful action.

A march to the Legislature is being planned for March 18th. Students from the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge as well as other post-secondary institutions will be coming together to stand together on the steps of the Legislature building and reinforce their displeasure with this government’s de-prioritization of education over the last two decades. The Council of Alberta University Students will hold a press conference, and the three research intensive universities, bound together through common interest and concern will speak for all students who feel powerless, and ineffectual.

The Progressive Conservative caucus has an incredible amount of power, and it is their choice to continue to damage Alberta’s future. I invite them to pause on their way into question period, and listen to what 190 000 potential voters have to say.

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