As part of the next phase of its advanced education review, the provincial government is asking Albertans what they think about the province's post-secondary system.
The A Learning Alberta steering committee has made its policy framework available online and is asking Albertans to submit suggestions on its website. Also, a series of invitation-only regional stakeholder meetings are planned throughout the province in the coming weeks.
"Now we want to hear what Albertans have to say," said Advanced Education Minister David Hancock. "We want to know if they think we're on the right track, and how they envision the advanced education system of the future."
The public consultation process has been widely criticized by stakeholders who claim it is not public enough.
"It's not public if you need a special invitation to go," said Council of Alberta University Students Chair and University of Calgary Students' Union Vice-President External Jen Smith. "I don't think it makes up for the lack of face time they're giving the public."
CAUS, which represents the student organizations of Alberta's universities, has been invited to a number of the planned stakeholder meetings. Although critical of the process, Smith is hopeful CAUS will be heard.
"I feel we are respected around the table and they do listen to us, but in the end it depends how much what we want fits in with Hancock's agenda," she said.
Smith said she would rather see town-hall style forums fully open to the public. Her view is shared by Public Interest Alberta, a non-partisan organization which will be hosting its own public forums across the province open to all.
"Organizations that have a deep vested interest in good quality post-secondary education don't even know this review is going on," said PIA Executive Director Bill Moore-Kilgannon, noting groups like the Alberta Teachers' Association were not consulted. "They weren't invited and had no sense this was going on."
Beginning in late September, PIA will hold forums in seven Alberta cities, including Edmonton, Red Deer, Olds, Lethbridge and Calgary. The forums will be open to all members of the public and Moore-Kilgannon said all suggestions generated will be presented to each member of the A Learning Alberta steering committee.
Both Smith and Moore-Kilgannon stressed the importance of the public keeping up pressure.
"Get out there and phone or fax your MLA," said Smith, suggesting U of C students also contact U of C President Dr. Harvey Weingarten with their concerns. "I'm sure he'd be interested in hearing them."