As a result of deliberate and specific cuts made by the Government of Alberta, 3,500 jobs have already been cut from Alberta college and university sector in 2019 and 2020, with more to come. These job losses have also led to program closures – Media Studies and Professional Communication Diploma and Acting and Live Entertainment majors within the Bachelor of Applied Arts in Film, Theatre and Live Entertainment at Red Deer College; nursing and rehabilitation programs at the University of Alberta’s Augustana campus in Camrose; carpentry at Keyano just to name a few.
But this is the beginning of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. The government has issued a call for proposals for the transformation of Alberta’s higher education system. The RFP was issued on March 6th 2020 and submissions closed on April 6th. It calls for:
“… improved outcomes for learners and all Albertan’s, and shape a more affordable and accessible system that is reflective of Alberta’s future economic demands. Through this review and strategy, the Province is looking to respond to recommendations made in the MacKinnon Panel Report on Alberta’s Finances (specifically, Recommendations 7, 8, 9 and 20) as well as aligning with the Government of Alberta Strategic Plan and Fiscal Plan and the Advanced Education Business Plan 2020-2023.
Post-secondary education and training are critical to building an Alberta that is open for business and keeps pace with changing industry needs, with talent and a strong economy that is competitive on the world stage. Education and skill development feeds Alberta’s talent pipeline of entrepreneurs, educators, tradespeople, highly qualified personnel, innovators, job creators and community leaders.”
The RFP then outlines the kinds of “transformations” it seeks to create:
· Transforming our workforce – to ensure students have the skills and education to solve problems and be resilient in response to emerging demands and opportunities;
· Transforming learner experience – to create a system, including pathways to learning and skills development, that is more open, accessible and affordable throughout the lifetimes of Alberta’s diverse learners;
· Transforming funding – to strengthen predictability, sustainability and accountability, empowering institutions to become less reliant on unstable levels of public funding and improving outcomes-based funding;
· Transforming government engagement – with learners, industry, entrepreneurs and innovators and other key stakeholders, enabling co-creation of strategies and implementation plans going forward;
· Transforming governance, collaboration, culture and capabilities – in the Ministry and across Post-Secondary System leadership as a condition for success.
Put simply: what the Government is seeking is for colleges and universities to “produce” work-ready workers for the Alberta economy for less money than is currently the case and with less structure and complexity. It is also seeking to decrease public funding and increase student fees and private investment.
Even though the world changed after March 6th, the government is still pursuing the agenda is outlined in October 2019 and reaffirmed in the February 2020 budget and outlined in this RFP in March. For example, while Ontario has postponed the introduction of performance-based funding for higher education as a result of COVID-19, Alberta insists it will implement this scheme in full, even though it makes little sense in the face of a global recession. While other parts of the country are investing in colleges and universities as a way of kick-starting upskilling and reskilling, Alberta continues to cut and claw back funds. You may think the world has changed; Jason Kenney is even more determined to implement his “cunning plan”.
There are a variety of speculations:
· Merging NAIT and SAIT into a single Alberta Polytechnic, as Saskatchewan did many years ago.
· Merging all the Colleges into a single entity – The Colleges of Alberta – based on the recent merger of all of the New Zealand polytechnics (colleges) into a single entity – something that also happened in New South Wales.
· Privatizing Athabasca University, which is already funded at less than 35% of its operating budget by Alberta.
· Cancelling the transition of both Red Deer and Grande Prairie Colleges into universities, something that has been in the works for many years.
· Creating two Universities (North based around the UofA and South based around the UofC) so as to simplify governance – perhaps with a single governing body.
But we don’t know.
What is interesting is that there is almost no public debate and conversation about this. Such a major change being “plotted” yet no real consultation or engagement.