The Vice-President (External) is responsible for Students’ Union relations with the government and the larger community, and develops policy on issues such as post-secondary funding, co-ordinating provincial and national lobbying efforts, and improving the public profile of students and their concerns.
Why are you running for VP (External)?
Thomas Dang: VP (External) is a really interesting position for me because over the last year or two, I’ve gotten really involved with provincial politics. So I looked at all the positions and I thought VP (External) fits really well because it is a position that’s lobbying, provincially and federally, for students at the U of A.
Dylan Hanwell: To be honest, and it may sound egotistical, it’s because I think I’m the best candidate. I wouldn’t run if I didn’t think I could do the best job possible, and I think I have the best experience that’s going to make me the best candidate out of anyone running.
Navneet Khinda: The last four years at the U of A have given me a lot of opportunities and experiences, and it’s opened a lot of doors for me that wouldn’t have been open otherwise. In that sense, I see post-secondary education as opportunity. It’s important for me to make sure that groups of students that are underrepresented — like people from low-income backgrounds or rural and Aboriginal students — also get the same opportunities and aren’t barred by things like financial accessibility.
2. What are your thoughts on the current relationship between the Students’ Union and the Government of Alberta?
Dang: I think the SU hasn’t been doing enough hard action against them.
I don’t think they’re explicitly against us, but the government right now isn’t really concerned with how students are being treated — they’re just doing what they think is best.
Hanwell: I think it’s pretty good. The external portfolio has done a pretty good job there. I think people are going to look at budget cuts and think that’s a bad relationship or it can be construed as a bad relationship.
I think that our relationship could always be better, but it’s in a good position right now.
Khinda: There’s the potential for a really positive relationship in the future, especially now that we have a new minister who used to work in the Advanced Education portfolio about 10 years ago. I see that the relationship is rocky because we had the budget cuts, but I think there’s room for a more positive relationship in the future.
3. Mandatory non-instructional fees (MNIFs) are an issue that has been in the spotlight in the VP (Ex) portfolio lately — is this a priority for you? How do you plan on addressing it?
Dang: We should be pushing to get legislation on MNIFs into the PSLA. We should be setting up protests outside the Minister of Education’s office. We should be doing things that say we as students are taking a stance against this collectively, because we recognize that we’re just being abused through a simple loophole.
Hanwell: It’s not one of my three goals, but it is something that I think has to be fixed. The problem that I see is that it’s hard to get people to understand what MNIFs are, because you have to explain what they are, why they’re bad, why people should think they’re bad, and they have to believe they’re bad and why they should be opposed to them. It’s really hard, from an advocacy perspective, to go through those stages. I think it’s possible, but it’s going to take some time.
Khinda: Absolutely. Talking about MNIFs is really important, because first of all, Premier Redford said budget cuts wouldn’t fall on the backs of students.
There’s potential for moving forward on this because I feel like the minister might be receptive to talking about MNIFs and I also hear there are talks about opening the PSLA in the future, so that means there is a gap there where students can advocate for regulating the MNIFs.
4. The possibility of the government opening the Post-Secondary Learning Act (PSLA) has been on everyone’s radar for some time now. If this happens, what would you like to see changed?
Dang: I’d like to see closing loopholes around things like MNIFs. I’d also like to see changes in how international tuition is handled. We’re seeing the university just gauging them since there’s a price cap and they took a cut. I’d like to see things like protection for how much funding we’re getting from the government and protection against abusing different demographics of students.
Hanwell: First of all, I think the PSLA opening might have been put on the back burner with the cabinet shuffle, but it’s still definitely a possibility. I think the advocacy approach for me would be that we have to find certain core issues that are really on our radar and go from there. One of them, for me, would be putting more representation on the Board of Governors.
As well, if possible, if we could somehow get a tuition regulation tied to CPI or something like that inside the PSLA, I think that would be a gigantic win for students.
Khinda: There are two big things that I would like to see changed in the PSLA: first, putting in provisions on how to deal with fees — separating tuition and fees and clearly marking the distinctions between the two.
The second thing I would like to see is including a section that talks about international undergraduate student differential fees. Right now, nothing in the regulation talks about international fees, which is why the university legally can increase their fees.
5. What are some of your platform goals and priorities? How will you achieve them?
Dang: I’m focusing on three main ideas: social justice, fairness to students and how we can make UAlberta ours. For social justice, it’s a very broad term, but I believe that since a lot of the legislation is set up to take advantage of students and the administration is taking advantage of students, we should be working to try to make students more included in discussions in everything to do with post-secondary education.
It’s going to take a lot of lobbying against the government and establishing, perhaps, some sort of organized protest with students for issues that they find are big like MNIFs. Organized protests, going into the office and booking up all Minister Hancock’s interview time and personal time, if we have to — stuff like that. If we have to do things like that to finally be heard, we have to do that.
Hanwell: The first is meaningful student employment. You talk about student employment programs that get students experience and help them build skills that they’re going to use in their career. I think, for me, going through the non-profit sector is a really big thing for that. STEP was a good program; I think it can be misused. From the government’s perspective, it could have been misused. The Serving Communities Internship Program (SCIP) is the direction I’d like to push it. That’s really meaningful work students are doing, especially in the non-profit sector.
Khinda: Provincially, when we’re talking about student financial assistance, my big thing is shifting the conversation so we make policy more efficient. And what I mean by that is going away from things like universal grants to targeted, upfront, needs-based grants. A lot of the work is through lobby groups. And in the External portfolio, you can’t do anything by yourself, especially when you’re advocating to government. Obviously I’ll be working with CAUS and CASA, the provincial and federal lobby groups, to make sure the government hears our voice.
6. Joke question: If you were locked in a room with just Minister Hancock and yourself for 24 hours, how would you kill the time?
Dang: I’m really good at Flappy Bird. At least, I think I’m good — I have a score of 114. So I would challenge him to a Flappy Bird tournament.
Hanwell: One thing I really want to learn how to do is on How I Met Your Mother, Marshall and Lily stand next to each other, and they’re able to look straight into the camera and high five each other. And that takes a lot of skill, surprisingly. So I would get Minister Hancock and I to learn how to do that high five. So then in press conferences it would be like, we just passed something that makes all the students happy, and we’d just look into the camera and high five.
Khinda: This is a lame answer, but I would talk to him. I want to figure out who he is and where he comes from. Maybe we’d play some games. We could do trust falls.