July 31, 2013 12:36 am
Updated: July 31, 2013 12:37 am

Lukaszuk meets with student representatives, calls this year’s reduced Advanced Education budget a “hiccup”

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EDMONTON – Advanced Education minister Thomas Lukaszuk is calling this year’s budget for his ministry a “hiccup.” He made the comment after a two-hour meeting with 29 student representatives on Tuesday.

The important meeting, which Lukaszuk called “phenomenal,” comes four months after budget cuts hit post secondary education the hardest. Institutions had anticipated a two per cent increase in funding; instead they received a seven per cent decrease.

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That means the U of A, for example, will see $43 million less in funding this year.

Facing falling oil prices, the government insisted the cuts were necessary.

“We know despite the hiccup of one year’s budget we will not allow post secondary education, education in anyway to be sacrificed,” Lukaszuk said.

When asked whether next year’s budget will see money returned to post secondary education, Lukaszuk said he hopes so.

“And I know the premier hopes so. If you could predict what the budget is going to look like next year, you’d be a very rich woman. But we know post secondary education is a priority.”

The possibility of a reversal is music to the ears of some students like Juanita Marshall, who is a member of the Portage College Students’ Association. Cuts meant her college’s upgrading program was axed.

“For us this is a very vital part of what Portage College offers and we were quite devastated by how the cuts affected us,” she said.

Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason says that perhaps students should have been consulted before the budget was implemented.

“I mean the government breaks the promises, presents students and institutions with a fait accompli and then tries to sweet talk them after,” he said.

Student leaders agree that there needs to be a greater role for students at the decision-making table.

“I think they haven’t always had full participation in the past, but I think Minister Lukaszuk is doing a good job of reviewing that and I think we may see an increase in the future,” said Conner Brown, VP External of the University of Calgary Students’ Union.

“They’re consumers,” added Lukaszuk. “And as consumers, and as investors they can have expectations and their expectations ought to be taken seriously. And our job, as presidents, as ministers, as administrators is to deliver a product they expect of us.”

Exactly how that will happen will be decided in the future. For now, the student meetings will take place every three months.

“We’re encouraged the dialogue has begun, and we want to make sure it keeps going,” said Brent Epperson with the U of A Students’ Association. “It’s a good start but way too early to say whether anyone’s encouraged or discouraged at this point.”

The much-discussed topic of Campus Alberta also came up at Tuesday’s meeting. A few weeks ago the Auditor General criticized the government for a lack of direction around the concept and even noted that many institutions and people at those institutions weren’t clear on exactly what Campus Alberta is.

The minister said there was a lot of consensus between him and the students about the concept and more work will be done on it in the future.

With files from Vassy Kapelos, Global News

© 2013 Shaw Media

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