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CAUS makes last ditch lobby run

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With hopes for increased base operating funding and measures to prevent a double tuition hike for the 2006/2007 year, student leaders are descending on Edmonton this week to lobby the provincial government for input into Bill 1.

The Council of Alberta University Students are meeting with MLAs, cabinet ministers, and Dave Han-cock, the Minister of Advanced Learning. There is an estimated $4.5 billion going into post-secondary education this year as part of Bill 1 but CAUS feels the two major issues of base funding for universities and tuition money have been left out.

"We are trying to make sure that with the tuition freeze this year, that we won't get hit with a double whammy next year with the increase," said Bryan West, President of the University of Calgary Students' Union.

"What we don't want to see is students getting a one-year gift."

If government does not give additional funding for lowering tuition next year, students could see an increase from $4,590 to $5,138 next year. This would mean almost a 12 per cent increase in tuition. According to CAUS, the SU's provincial lobby group, the problem arises from the one time nature of the tuition freeze.

CAUS believes an increase in the base operating grants of all Alberta universities is the only solution to continued tuition increases.

"The government is planning a two per cent increase in base funding," said CAUS Executive Director Duncan Wojtaszek. "But that is not going to cut it. That number doesn't keep up with inflation."

CAUS is currently lobbying to raise base funding by 10 per cent. This would mean an additional $110-$120 million increase in the base operating fund.

"I think we'll get around a six per cent increase, but we'll be pushing for 10 per cent," said West. "Anytime you put $3 billion into the education system it's a good thing, but if it doesn't pair with an increase in base operating money then I don't know how it will work."

While Bill 1 currently does not cover these two issues, students should be looking towards the creation of the $3 billion Access to the Future endowment fund. Each year this fund will generate $135 million in interest that will help universities.

The SU has used a number of tactics this year to encourage more funding into post-secondary education, including a joint trip to Edmonton with U of C administration.

"It's mutually beneficial if we can match the issue with administration," said West. "Now, we are using a different tactic to go just as students."

Both administration and the SU are concerned with how the money will be spent in Bill 1.

"We had three main priorities this year," said West. "The first were the tuition freeze and the creation of the endowment fund. We are up here now to see an increase in the base operating fund."

Another crucial goal of CAUS is to maintain an open line of communication with the Alberta government.

"Keeping the dialogue open is important," noted Wojtaszek. "The students' unions and student associations are trying hard to get the government to pay attention to post secondary education and spend money in the right direction."

Bill 1 will be released at the beginning of April and until then, CAUS will be lobbying the Alberta government to make CAUS' proposed changes.

"We have gotten a really positive response," said West. "This new learning minister really gets it. He truly wants to help students.

"I think we'll see a good thing."

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