Commercial research and jobs focus of Alberta's 10-year post-secondary plan

·3 min read
Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides says the plan will make the province's post-secondary institutions more responsive to market demands.  (Government of Alberta - image credit)
Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides says the plan will make the province's post-secondary institutions more responsive to market demands. (Government of Alberta - image credit)

The Alberta government released its 10-year plan for advanced education Thursday, a vision that underscores job skills and commercial research without acting on a controversial recommendation to lift the cap on tuition.

The plan aims to give every undergraduate student access to a "work-integrated learning" opportunity, as the government looks to develop a strategy to measure employment-related skills in students.

The province will also build partnerships between industry and post-secondary institutions in a bid to commercialize research in areas such as artificial intelligence and energy technologies.

"Our system will be highly responsive to labour market needs, allowing our programs, services and policies to keep pace with the changing needs of industry and economy," said Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides.

The plan, titled Alberta 2030, outlines in broad strokes the government's priorities following a nearly year-long consultation.

The minister said the province will continue to cap tuition increases, after a $3.7-million review by consultants McKinsey and Company suggested getting rid of the cap.

"Students are cautiously optimistic that the government chose not to make radical, destabilizing changes in a time when budget cuts have already created enormous stress," said Rowan Ley, chair of the Council of Alberta University Students.

Ley said the government's stated objective to provide more financial grants could also help alleviate some financial pressures brought on by recent tuition hikes. The government unfroze tuition in 2019 and permitted three years of seven-per-cent annual increases. Any increases in 2023 or beyond would be tied to inflation.

Undue corporate influence, U of A faculty union says

The emphasis on jobs and commercial research drew sharp criticism from Ricardo Acuna, president of the Association of Academic Staff at the University of Alberta. He said it could give corporations undue influence over what's taught in post-secondary institutions, while de-emphasizing the importance of the social sciences and humanities.

"They're trying to reinvent or recreate post-secondary education at the same time as they're in the process of cutting $400 million of funding from post-secondary education," he said, referencing government cuts to the Advanced Education budget over the last two years.

"It seems like a really mixed message to speak about this glorious future for advanced education while decimating its ability to actually fulfil its mandate."

"Students are cautiously optimistic that the government chose not to make radical, destabilizing changes in a time when budget cuts have already created enormous stress." - Rowan Ley, chair of the Council of Alberta University Students

Bill Flanagan, U of A president, praised the government's plan, highlighting the move to untie university finances from provincial accounts. He said it will free up the university to generate more external revenue.

"It'll allow us to be much more innovative and entrepreneurial in terms of driving new revenue growth for the university, which of course we can invest in our teaching and research mission," he said. "This is an enormously important step."

In an effort to "depoliticize decision-making," the plan said, the province will explore amendments so the government no longer appoints the majority of post-secondary board members.

Student groups praised the government's commitments to strengthening campus sexual violence policies, improving the transfer system to eliminate the need for duplicate courses when switching programs and boosting mental-health supports.