Colleges, universities get mandate letters from province

Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk says his proposed revamp of Alberta’s post-secondary system is not negotiable.

"It's time we rethink how we deliver education. This will not be mandated from my office. It will be collaborative," he said.

"What we arrive at is negotiable but the fact is there will be change and change has to occur and that is not negotiable."

Last week, Lukaszuk sent a draft “letter of expectation” or mandate letter to the province’s 26 colleges and universities.

In the letter sent to the University of Alberta’s board of governors, the university is told to work with others under the banner of Campus Alberta in areas like reducing program duplication and administrative costs.

The university also must review programs to see if they are “in demand by employers and students" and "enhance your work with business and industry to maximize the responsiveness to community and regional economic and social needs."

The recent provincial budget cut funding for universities by $147 million or 6.8 per cent. Lukaszuk said it's a good time to review how post-secondary education is delivered in Alberta.

“Right now these 26 schools are very proprietary,” he said.

“That needs to go away. We need to break down those walls and allow for more sharing of resources within Campus Alberta and more collaborative work.”

In an open letter released Monday, the University of Alberta's board of governors warned of serious consequences that could accompany the changes.

"It is difficult to imagine the detrimental effect that cutting more than $43 million from our annual budget this year alone will have on our students, who are the critical next generation in this province," read the letter, which was signed by the board's public members and the university's chancellor.

"Staff members at our university who support our students and faculty also will be deeply affected."

In the letter, the board said while impovements could be made to cut waste, board members felt that the university was being run efficiently.

They wrote that they are worried the cuts will make it difficult to compete with top-tier schools.

"Being just another “average” university is not something that is part of our vision, nor is it something that we can accept," their letter said.

In a post added to the University of Alberta blog on Sunday, president Indira Samarasekera and acting provost Martin Ferguson-Pell said the university executive reviewed the letter over the weekend and believe that much of what is in the letter is in step with the institution’s mandate.

“However, there are some aspects of the letter that concern us and warrant closer examination, clarification, and discussion,” they wrote, adding that they plan to seek input from faculty, staff and students.

Lukaszuk wants feedback by April 11. He is expecting push-back because he believes that universities can be traditional, but said this overhaul is non-negotiable.

"I'm confident that common sense will prevail," he said.

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