Alberta universities, colleges prepare for changes

Officials at universities and colleges across the province are mulling over a five-page letter from the provincial government outlining how post-secondary education will be revamped.

Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk’s letter included a list of expectations for each of Alberta’s 26 post-secondary schools in the wake of last month’s $147-million cut in funding for universities.

One of the government's expectations is to ensure the programs being taught are in demand by employers.

Elizabeth Cannon, president of the University of Calgary, said she's prepared to make changes.

“There are some low enrolment programs that we would be looking at anyway. We're going to look at those in detail. The ones that have a strategic fit to the community, we don't want to cut those just because there are few students,” she said.

“We do have to be realistic in terms of carrying on programs that aren't meeting the needs of students and perhaps need to be eliminated.”

Cannon said she's not yet sure which programs will be cut.

“As we prepare our response, we want to include input and ideas gathered as part of a broad consultation with the board, senate, campus community and business and community leaders," Cannon said in a written statement.

"The response we develop to the letter of expectation will be shared with the campus community.”

Cal Dallas, Alberta's minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations, said the U of C’s new plan to double the number of foreign undergrads is a nice fit with the government's goal to make the province's post-secondary schools more market driven.

Lukaszuk will meet with all post-secondary school presidents on April 11 to discuss their feedback on the letters.

U of C faculty and staff are being invited to give their own feedback to an online comment section until April 3.

Bow Valley College president Sharon Carry said she supports the province's demands that institutions end duplication of programs while creating a process that allows students to easily move from one school to another.

"It reinforces things we've been doing at Bow Valley College that are absolutely second nature to us, and that's collaboration across Campus Alberta."

Carry points out the freshly-renovated Bow Valley Campus shares space with the University of Lethbridge, Athabasca University and Olds College.

"Having these four institutions on the south campus is going to enable us to creates some very interesting pathways for people."

But student association president Rylan Slipchuck said he is worried about overcrowded classes and program cancellations that would force some students to move in order to take courses they may have previously taken in their hometown.

"It reduces the choices, the options and the flexibilities that we offer students."

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