This year, budget makers in America and Canada seemed to have forgotten their humble beginnings. Post-secondary education saw massive cuts, both to operating grants for institutions and in research dollars, maintenance funds, and student funding. Scholarships, grants, bursaries were all depreciated, leaving low income students little choice but student loans, third party loans, or dropping down to part time status to be able to work while obtaining an education.
Students across North America are not taking these cuts lying down. In effect, they are causing a perfect storm. In America, students across the states are protesting to their elected assemblies. Monday March 15th, students in Georgia came together to tell lawmakers that they vote, they are educated, and they are articulate. Georgia has 35 public institutions, and some students awoke at 5 a.m. to drive to attend the rally at the capitol city.
Idaho students are being hit hard. Tuition increases of 50% in just one-year means greater stress on economic resources and of course all the ill effects that come with. By the current 2010 budget, state funding remained $78.8 million, while student fees climbed to $84.5 million. This is a sharp contrast with Alberta PSE practice, which is that student tuition cannot make up any more than 30% of the total institutions operating budget. The keyword there is tuition, other fees can increase by as much as the institution or the students will allow. Idaho students came out to protest on March 11th, a small but vocal contingent.
Florida and California are the states setting the bar for university activism, with Florida universities pushing students hard to make their voices known on March 24th, a day of action to be held on the steps of the Capitol. California, though, is where the jam is really happening. Students are working with faculty and staff members, shutting down their campuses and basically throwing a highly sophisticated and intellectual tantrum.
Every lawmaker, be they Canadian or American has issued very similar public reactions. Yes, cuts are being made but that does not mean that students will have to bear the brunt of the cost saving measures. It does not necessarily mean increased tuition; it means that institutions will have to re-evaluate their spending habits. Alberta’s own Minister of Advanced Education and Technology, Doug Horner, has said something very much to that effect both to the public media and to students in private meetings. This is an incredibly short sighted and irresponsible response, in this writer’s opinion.
By cutting research funding, universities are forced to find ways to fund expensive but well publicized research projects, such as our own $20 million man. If that funding dried up, I would be hardly surprised to see the U of L make cuts somewhere to ensure Dr. McNaughton could carry on with his work at the CCBN. U of L’s name is riding on the success of high profile academics such as Dr. McNaughton and the many others who are well published and academically visible. Sometimes, this comes at the cost of providing support to professors who are less funded, and have more trouble receiving the increasingly elusive grant funding.
I’ve been in university for six years this April. In six years I have seen tuition increase, fee referendums pass and fail. I have seen buildings built, a much-needed daycare open, and countless student organized and directed events.
I have also had the amazing opportunity to work as a student advocate, representative, and activist. Campus – community radio was and has been my dig for the past six years, and I have seen the power the medium of radio can employ. I have hosted a sex talk show, a news program, and a music program featuring independent artists locally and across Canada. Most visibly, I have been elected to serve as a public official to represent students within the university community and to the provincial government. I have also had the great pleasure of writing for the on-campus publication, The Meliorist, since 2006. All of these experinces have thrust me, sometimes unknowingly, into student activism.
Students are notorious for their activist ways. Despite the increasingly used label of “apathetic,” students are proving this month both in Canada and the U.S. that this is far from the truth. Here in Alberta, students province wide will be attending a rally planned by the University of Alberta on the steps of the Legislature building March 18th to physically show the government that these cuts are hurting students, and students are no longer going to be able to handle the burdens they are forced to bear. This comes after months of individual protests at institutions across the province, and several Alberta wide campaigns planed by organized advocacy groups.
Students are whipping up a perfect storm, the question is though, what will they do with the commotion they created after the winds die down? How effective will this protesting, rallying, and general rabble rousing be? Will lawmakers in the U.S. and Canada hear the cries and reverse their cuts? Will institutions recognize that without students, they are reduced to commercial research entities pumping out name brand pharmaceuticals?
Student activism has led to revolutions in the past, but this is not the generation of the 1960s. We are students, in the here and now, facing issues in the here and now: climate change, student poverty, lack of housing, and de-prioritization of post-secondary education.
War protests still occur, and some get a great deal of media attention. However, protesting is only one part of student activism now. After the protest, students must keep going, keep trying to meet with their MLA’s and their MP’s, their congressman, and their political leaders. They must keep sending letters, and they must keep talking to institution’s administration. Students must keep working, because it is not a solitary action that will change anyone’s mind.
If all else fails, students and activists need to run for office and turn it inside out. Forget trying to work within the system, change it.
In a recent CBC news story, “secret” government documents were discovered, outlining some of the disastrous effects the tar sands would have on Canada’s overall CO2 emissions and the research being done to prevent the projected emission spike.
16% of total CO2 emissions by 2020 will be from the tar sands alone and the current plan of CCS (carbon capturing sequestration) has been projected by the aforementioned gov’t doc to only being able to capture a small portion as the majority of the emissions given off by the tar sands “aren’t pure enough”. The full document goes further to outline the prohibitive costs of CCS; which I suppose was not a problem for Alberta, until the recession that is; as well as other roadblocks in implementing this in Alberta for the use of the tar sands.
This comes quick on the heels of Stelmach’s $1.8 billion royalty forgiveness package, which gives oil companies a nice little break on oil royalties in order to keep tar sands production at a steady rate. Funny enough, 1.8 billion is the same number of litres a day that the toxic tailing ponds grow due to oil sands production.
It does beg the question that if Stelmach is so hell bent on continuing tar sands production, what exactly does he plan on doing to ensure that this man made natural disaster doesn’t bring Canada even further away from reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As we have already blown most developed country’s out of the water with our increased emission rates and shown how effective it is to NOT follow Kyoto emission standards it only seems fitting to continue to destroy Alberta’s lands, poison its people and make life that much worse for all Canadians.
As our heritage fund losses money in investments and post secondary funding gets cut, as hospital waiting lines see no shrinkage and there is still a shortage of rural doctors; our government is spending $2.5 billion to fund research towards CCS technology which will do very little to stop the CO2 emissions from the tar sands. A commodity that takes 10 barrels of water for every 1 barrel of oil when there are reservations in this province that don’t even have access to clean drinking water (most often found by the Athabasca river due to the leaching of toxins from the tailing ponds…).
Clearly, this investment really is what is best for Alberta.
So, I guess the $1.8 billion dollar question is: is this all we pay our taxes for?
Credit: Mike Soron for his insightful and thought provoking post.
For more information on the tar sands: