The future of post-secondary education in Alberta will be thrust into the spotlight next week as students, government officials and institutional leaders gather at the University of Alberta for the IGNITE: Ideas for Post-Secondary Education conference.
Hosted by the Council of Alberta University Students, the Alberta Students’ Executive Council and the Alberta Graduate Council, the conference will run Feb. 21 and 22, and will feature an array of speakers and panel discussions on issues such as technology and educational quality and accessibility.
Students’ Union Vice-President (External) Petros Kusmu said the idea for the conference was sparked by the lack of communication between the various stakeholders in post-secondary education — from student associations and organizations to the government and the post-secondary institutions themselves.
“We talk one-on-one with the government, we talk one-on-one with the faculty associations, but there’s never a really big group dialogue on bigger issues beyond, ‘Oh, there should be more money for grants,’ ” Kusmu said.
“There’s a strong desire from the Ministry for wanting post-secondary education institutions to be innovative. They want to find ways to be a lot more cost-efficient, but they also want to find ways for them to be innovative ... this is a conversation they’re going to have with or without us. So we might as well be at the forefront of that conversation. Let’s make sure that we have our thoughts heard on various issues that affect us down the road, even though we’re not advocating them right now.”
Kusmu described the event as more of an “overall engagement plan” than a conference, explaining that each panel will be followed by a breakout session from which a post-conference report will be compiled and relayed to students, and eventually to the Ministry of Enterprise and Advanced Education as well.
“They have to draft a vision of, ‘Where do we want money to be going to in this Ministry? What are the results we’re looking for?’ ” he said.
“And by us providing these kind of reports to the Ministry, we’re hoping that can really shape what the future of post secondary education literally looks like.”
Kusmu said the conference is coming just in time to respond to the swiftly changing educational and economic atmostpheres, where new political and institutional
leadership, fiscal instability and constant technological innovations have all become major issues for all involved in post secondary education.
“There’s just so much change happening,” he said. “With a new minister coming in, with all these talks about financing, the government really wanted to have a desire for innovation. There could be no more perfect time for this conference to be happening than now.”
According to Kusmu, feedback from the conference will come from a mixture of students, faculty associations, and even business and nonprofit organizations in an effort to incorporate responses from all stakeholders.
“It’s just to form these kinds of relationships, and making sure that these kinds of dialogues exist between all the various stakeholders ... it’s something that rarely happens, but it’s something that I feel should happen,” he said.
“I truly believe that we can make a very strong evolutional impact on how the government finances post-secondary education in this province, and I believe that they will seriously take into consideration what we have to say.”
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