Following the declaration made last week by Premier Ralph Klein that Alberta is now debt free, student leaders hope for more funding for post-secondary education.
"Obviously it opens up a big chink in the armor of the government, in that they don't have this monster, all-encompassing debt," said Students' Union President Bryan West. "There's a provincial election coming up and that gives us an opportunity to get post-secondary education out there."
Citing statistics that university graduates are generally healthier and less prone to criminal acts than non-university educated citizens, West believes education is an investment, rather than a burden on society.
"Fourteen million dollars a year toward this university would do absolute wonders," said West, citing $14 million as the amount needed to avoid maximum tuition increases.
Though no new spending in education or any other area has been announced, Klein plans to gauge where the publics' priorities lie. The "It's Your Future" survey is to be mailed to every Alberta household in August, asking Albertans to rank government spending priorities.
West said the SU encourages the community to support post-secondary education, but had no concrete plans to campaign the public leading up to the survey. He mentioned an initiative being pursued by the Council of Alberta Students, a provincial lobby group in which the SU is a member.
"CAUS would like to do a [non-partisan] rating of MP's and give them a passing or failing grade on their education stance," said West, noting the information could help voters pick their candidates. "It's definitely an interesting idea."
Alberta's new debt-free status provides special interest groups with a new angle in lobbying the government, said CAUS Chair Alex Abboud. He noted that not only students, but education institutions themselves have been incurring debt.
"The last decade was about paying off the province's debt," said Abboud. "Let's make this next decade about paying off the post-secondary debt."
Although he said CAUS has not formulated any specific initiatives regarding the "It's Your Future" survey, Abboud is positive about the possibilities for lobbying in general.
"We can view the province becoming debt free in two ways," he said. "Negatively, in that it's come off the backs of students. Or positively, in that we have an opportunity now to pursue more funding from this government."