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Post-Secondary Education in Alberta After the Provincial Election

In August, The Weal spoke with Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides and Saitsa VP External Garrett Koehler to determine what impacts students will feel after the results of this past spring’s Alberta provincial election.

“One of our immediate priorities is to strengthen apprentice learning in the post-secondary system,” Nicolaides told the Weal.

The minister believes skilled trades are important because they believe there will be an impending shortage of trade workers in the future.

“According to information from the department of labour, we anticipate approximately 3,000 skilled workers will retire every year from now until 2025,” said Nicolaides.

Garrett Koehler, Saitsa VP External. Photo by Rorie Stannard.

Saitsa’s Vice President External Garrett Koehler told the Weal, “The UCP is focused on trades, which is extremely exciting as we are a main trades school.”

One of the potential areas Koehler and Saitsa may find synergy with the incoming UCP government is to modify the trade curriculum to include soft skills for trades.

Koehler acknowledges there are challenges for trades people starting businesses without being taught the soft skills needed to effectively run a business.

“How do you start your own business when you’ve never seen a finance book?” Koehler asked.

Another priority for Nicolaides is to remove red tape from universities and post-secondary institutions.

According to the minster, red tape removal could create an opportunity for institutions to conduct more research and be more innovative.

“They are focused on red tape reduction,” said Koehler, “We’re also looking at ways to decrease red tape at post-secondary.”

According to Koehler, there are a number of potential ways in which red tape could be reduced in Alberta post-secondary institutions.

Mental Health Funding

How schools apply for mental health funding, credit transfers, and funding for continuing education are all potential avenues for red tape reduction.

While Saitsa and the UCP government have a number of shared objectives that could benefit the lives of Alberta’s post-secondary students, the subject of funding cuts for higher learning could be a point of contention between the government and student unions.

Student leaders are concerned the UCP may not be willing to raise taxes, and will therefore use the price of tuition for students as a tool to balance the budget.

Bill 19, which protects students against exceptional increases in tuition, guarantees tuition increases only occur in connection to the price of inflation and the consumer price index.

“With the new government coming in, we’ve heard rumblings of them not being friendly towards Bill 19,” said Koehler.

The bill was passed November 2018 by the previous NDP government and creates tuition certainty for international students, and allows student’s unions to veto mandatory non-instructional fees.

In the coming months, students can watch for two key events that may indicate potential cuts and impacts to the price of tuition and student fees.

The first event will be the results of the MacKinnon Panel which was published on Aug. 15. According to Nicolaides, the findings will help the government make informed decisions about how the UCP will balance the province’s budget.

The second event will be the provincial budget, expected in October.

The government has been non-specific about funding priorities, but producing a budget will provide the public with specific numbers for areas where budget balancing measures will impact.

“We’re in a period of putting together our budget, gathering information, and trying to get a comprehensive understanding of the state of our province’s finances,” said Nicolaides.

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