Last month, Premier Ralph Klein declared education the top priority of the latest Conservative mandate. Raising the spectre of a tuition freeze or "something of that nature," Klein's new position on education follows the creation of the Advanced Education Ministry days before the last provincial election.
For student leaders like the U of C's Students' Union President Bryan West, the announcement is an exciting development for an often times neglected portfolio.
"Honestly, it's a huge win for students," said West. "I think it's a huge for Albertans that the message got through during the provincial election and now the government's willing to step up to the plate and make some changes.
"This is probably about the best news that the SU has heard since we heard we were getting management of Mac Hall back in '88."
With West meeting with Advan- ced Education Minister Dave Hancock on Jan. 18 and a subsequent, province-wide SU meeting with Premier Klein scheduled for February including all four of Alberta's universities, plans for stakeholder consultation on Bill 1--the proposed priority legislation responsible for the restructuring of Alberta's post-secondary system--are already in motion.
With Alberta's legislature out of session until February, Klein's December promises remain ethereal. As West points out, a student population whose "ingrained cynicism" stems from a continued decline in education over the last decade, the promise of a drastic change in post-secondary education may be difficult to accept. But while post-election promises are often suspect, West remains cautiously optimistic on the potential for meaningful educational change.
"We haven't seen any change except for the worse in education since 1993," he said. "But obviously [provincial Progressive Conservatives] lost some ground on the education front as was evidenced by the results here in Calgary and elsewhere, so I think they're trying to make up ground on that.
"I hope the government is realizing the worth of a post-secondary education and how important it is to the future of the province."