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Student leaders meet with government officials at Lobby Con 2015

Student leaders from the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) are meeting with government officials and MLAs in advance of next year’s budget to pitch what they believe would benefit the 100,000 students they represent.

CAUS includes student representatives from the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge, MacEwan University and Mount Royal University. They’re hosting the annual Lobby Conference in a “last effort” to recommend and advocate for Alberta post-secondary students’ interests, Students’ Union Vice-President (External) Navneet Khinda said.

“All these goals we have in mind are important to the everyday student,” she said. “We’re asking for money to fix these problems.”

In Alberta Budget 2013, post-secondary funding was cut 7.3 per cent. Alberta Premier Jim Prentice’s campaign for Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party vowed to “restore Alberta’s post-secondary funding that was cut in 2013.” But with the dwindling prices of barrels of oil, CAUS is anticipating further cuts to post-secondary funding this year.

Khinda, who is also chair of CAUS, is recommending that the provincial government remove “loopholes” — such as market modifiers and Mandatory Non-Instructional Fees — in the Tuition and Fee Regulation, so a “true” tuition cap is tied to CPI, which keeps post-secondary education accessible. The U of A’s Board of Governors recently approved all five of their market modifier proposals and a slew of increases to existing Mandatory Non-Instructional Fees on March 13.

The current Tuition and Fees Regulation will expire in 2016, and the government has reportedly floated the idea of possibly eliminating the tuition cap, which is “frustrating,” Khinda said. CAUS is also recommending the tuition cap be implemented back into the Post-Secondary Learning Act.

Khinda met with Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education Don Scott on Monday, where he told CAUS there are “no imminent changes to the tuition cap,” she said.

Since the Summer Temporary Employment Program for Students is no longer available at the U of A, Alberta is the only province in Canada that doesn’t offer a student employment program. CAUS is suggesting the provincial government create a student and graduate employment program that offers job opportunities to current students and recent graduates.

CAUS is also recommending the government provide $5 million a year for three years in student mental health funding to CAUS’ institutions. The government’s current funding for mental health, which expires at the end of the year, sits at $3 million for the U of A, U of C and U of L. CAUS is advocating so MRU and MacEwan are also included in the government’s funding, which would increase the fund to $5 million for all five institutions. Khinda said more professional support as a student service, such as counselling, would be funded through with the money.

In terms of student financial assistance, CAUS is asking for $18 million to assist aboriginal, rural and low-income students.

“With this discussion of the economy going down the tank and needing to diversify the economy … education is the silver bullet,” Khinda said.

SU Vice-President (External) elect Dylan Hanwell, who will be advocating for student interests during next academic year, said it’s important to lobby the government now and test the political climate before stepping into office.

“It’s really important … especially right before the budget is announced,” Hanwell said. “Just making sure that students are in the backs of the minds of government and the opposition.”

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