Opinions

25 million ways to shaft education

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Finally, Premier Ralph Klein admitted education is an investment rather than an expense. He then opened Alberta's once-tightly zipped pockets and offered $25 million to post-secondary education, of which the University of Calgary will get... well, we don't know what we'll get. Rumours peg the number at about $4 million, but considering there are 26 post-secondary institutions in Alberta, who knows what the final tally will be? Realistically, Klein might as well have given a quarter to a bum on a street corner because about all institutions can do with that amount of money is buy coffee for one day and start begging early in the morning the next.

Part of that $25 million is earmarked for faculty salaries and recruitment, but how far will a few million go for the U of C? Can you imagine this as a recruiting line? "Well, your salary's covered for the first year, but after that you're on your own." Meanwhile, Klein lounged comfortably next to a cozy fireplace and described how 75 per cent of respondents to his questionnaire wanted lower taxes, but higher funding for education and health care.
Huh? Where do they think that money comes from? Oh, yeah, the evil coffers of the federal government, who takes Alberta's money and then funnels it into every province except Alberta. That may be true, but cutting provincial taxes won't change the fed's tax plans--neither will separating from the rest of the country because Alberta's current idea of what constitutes social funding is weak. The drop-in-the-bucket method won't get us very far in or out of Confederation, and neither will putting all the money in technology programs. Sure, hundreds of wet-behind-the-ears, 21-year-olds are incredibly well-versed in information/communication technologies, but they haven't got the ability to actually communicate effectively.

It's time for the province that loves one-time spending to get a grip on reality. Imagine if you only got a paycheque once every five or 10 years. You might find it hard to pay the rent, feed your family and keep yourself alive. That's the situation Alberta's post-secondary institutions are in right now with lump-sum spending. Also, students don't want higher tuition, especially when they can't see any improvement in their education each year it goes up. It's like paying the price for real Froot Loops but getting the cardboard-tasting, no-name version from Superstore instead.

This time around, kindergarten programs got $45 million, and no university administrator or student will say that wasn't a good investment. We've got students here who can barely read and write, and that's a sign of chronic underfunding of public education before the university level. But we've also got politicians who can't analyze all sides of a social issue without checking their calculators for the "right" figure because they've never taken the time to see more than their own point of view--a skill, by the way, that can be learned in university. Unfortunately, by the time today's kindergarten kids get to university or college, their desks could very well be Pepsi crates and their textbooks donated from a European country in a book drive.

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