Louie Villanueva

Student leaders lobby government ahead of budget announcement

By Fabian Mayer, March 26 2015 —

The Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) took to Alberta’s Legislature from March 17–21 for their lobby conference, an annual event where the student lobby group lays out all their advocacy priorities to the provincial government.

Delegates met with minister of advanced education Don Scott, minister of finance Robin Campbell and other MLAs to voice student concerns.

Students’ Union vice-president external and incoming president Levi Nilson and current president Jarett Henry represented University of Calgary students. Incoming vice-president external Romy Garrido also attended the conference.

Nilson said CAUS’s first priority is ensuring the inflation-tied cap on tuition remains in place. He believes the government won’t axe the cap with the budget, but they might raise the limit above the rate of inflation.

“We just think the tuition cap is so universally accepted and makes such good public policy sense that they couldn’t actually get rid of it,” Nilson said.

CAUS chair and incoming University of Alberta Students’ Union president Navneet Khinda said no new information came out of the meeting with Scott.

“The only response we got was that the minister said there would be no immediate changes to the tuition regulation,” Khinda said.

CAUS plans to meet with members of the government again after the budget is released March 26. They’ll meet with Campbell to discuss the state of post-secondary education.

CAUS delegates met Scott for the first time since market modifiers were proposed in September. They also received a negative response from the minister on this front.

“We basically just brought up our concerns that we haven’t been getting enough meetings over the year prior to decisions being made,” Khinda said.

Student leaders cast traditional lobbying efforts into doubt after they failed to dissuade the provincial government from approving market modifier proposals in 2014.

Nilson said lobbying government is just one of several advocacy strategies available to students.

“I think it’s important but this year we’ve definitely not used [traditional advocacy] as our primary form of advocacy. We’ve tried to really expand outside of that and this year we’re going to be doing even more,” Nilson said.

Khinda believes engaging with the community is crucial. She said reaching out to different groups like families with students in post-secondary, students and the media is also an important avenue for advocacy.

CAUS also lobbied to renew funding for mental health. The U of C received $3-million for mental-health initiatives two years ago, which will run out next year.

“We’re worried that it wouldn’t be included in this budget that’s coming up so that was a big point and we had a lot of progress on that,” Nilson said.

Minister of finance Robin Campbell will unveil the provincial budget Thursday, March 26. Both university administrators and student leaders expect cuts to post-secondary education. Nilson worries the university will increase tuition as a result.

“Some sort of other revenue generation from students is maybe what they’re looking at but we’re going to try and shut that down as quickly as we can,” Nilson said.

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