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Provincial lobby group calls for university funding

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The Council of Alberta University students, a post-secondary lobby group of which the University of Calgary is a member, recently released recommendations and policy goals for the year. They hope that despite the recession, schools will see additional provincial funding.

"Thus far it has been positive," said CAUS chair and Students' Union vice-president external Hardave Birk. "It is pretty early in our term -- we have been here for four months now. We have been getting a positive reaction to some of our priorities and we will continue to push. We are hoping to see some movement in our issues over the next eight months."

Increased tuition regulation and the creation of provincial guidelines for non-instructional fees are a major priority for CAUS this year.

"We would like to see a cap on tuition be put into legislation," said Birk. "We want to keep tuition affordable and to give predictability so students can plan in the long term."

Last year, the U of C and the University of Alberta saw large non-instructional fee increases added to tuition.

"We are not really sure where these fees are going or what they are going to pay for," explained Birk.

Birk said the U of C has increased non-instructional fees from just under $100 per student to $450. The increased is being phased in with an increase of $200 this year and $150 in 2011.

"University graduates make up 20 per cent of the population. They pay 40 per cent of the taxes and they only use about 14 or 15 per cent of the social and welfare services, therefore governments get a huge return in investment by investing in university education."

Another priority for CAUS this year is lobbying the government to increase the base operating grants given to post-secondary institutions.

Universities are funded by the provincial government which provides the base operating grants to fund a static level of basic operation each year. Birk explained that, along with tuition, these allotments are the largest source of the schools' funding.

Last year the U of A, University of Lethbridge and the U of C all received cuts to their base operating grants. CAUS would like to see this reverse with an increase to the grants.

Birk also hopes that school will get financially easier for students by pushing for the creation of new grants and bursaries.

"Last year $56 million was cut in financial aid at the provincial level in the form of bursaries grants and scholarships. For the most part these grants were going to students with high need and would need these grants to help them pay for their university education," explained Birk.

CAUS is suggesting the provincial government increase grants and bursaries by $110 million.

"We are not exactly experts on all the things the government spends its money on so we try to refrain to giving too much advice on that front," said Duncan Wojtaszek, executive director of CAUS. "In this case we do see a place where we think the government is spending money inefficiently,"

CAUS thinks tax credits would be better spent in the form of up front grants.

The final suggestion CAUS is putting forward to the provincial government is to increase voting accessibility for students.

"Alberta has rules that makes it tough for a student to know what is exactly the constituency in which they can vote," said Birk.

"What we found is a lot of students are going to vote on election day and they get to the poll which is usually where their temporary residence is and they will be told they are supposed to vote somewhere else," indicated Wojtaszek.

"We are working with Elections [Canada] to better inform and better train returning officers to understand the rules and to empower and inform students to let them know that they don't have to vote where they grew up but wherever they consider their home to be."

"I'm a student who lived on residence and I live here in Calgary and I would definitely say that this riding is my home and this is where I would like to vote in the next election," said Birk.

Advanced education and technology spokesperson Rachel Bouska indicated department officials are reviewing the proposal in more detail. She said advanced education and technology minister Doug Horner will meet with CAUS about the proposal.

"Students are reasonable," said Birk. "They just want to know that they are getting value for money they are spending on their education."

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