Jan. 02, 2013 - Issue #898: Apocalypse Not?
One card to rule them all?
Rumours of one centralized student card merely codswallop
Three years after he realized that Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End had made off with his "precious"—in J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings novel—Gollum overcame his fear of the sun and emerged from his cave under the Misty Mountains to go after him. The hobbit's trail had long grown cold and what was worse, while Gollum knew Baggins lived in the Shire, he had no idea where in Middle Earth to find it.
My own search—in this instance to find out the truth behind rumours of one student card for all Edmonton post-secondary students—started simply enough, as these things often do. My editor forwarded me a copy of a news article that appeared in the Edmonton Journal in November about the opening of the new NAIT LRT line, but it was a comment made by deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk at the end of the article that caught her attention.
"For the first time in the history of this city, four major post-secondary institutions will be connected by LRT," said Lukaszuk in the article. He was referring to NAIT, the University of Alberta, Grant MacEwan University and Norquest College.
"It will allow (students) to take courses in different institutions and utilize different institutions using one line of LRT," he continued.
The schools are now looking at creating a single student card so they can share libraries and other resources, reducing duplication, Lukaszuk told the Journal.
And so began my own journey, trying to find about this one card to rule them all (OCTRTA). How would it work? How could students take a course at one school and get credit for it at another? To whom would they pay their tuition? I've seen students try to get credits transferred between academic institutions. It's rarely pretty. What kind of administrative nightmare could this create?
I started at NAIT. Their spokesperson, Frank Landry, told me he hadn't heard about these specific plans, but very generously offered to ask around and get back to me. He later sent me an email advising that there are no immediate plans for a single student card, but they are open to exploring the idea. He added, "NAIT is interested in working with the provincial government in any way that helps enhance the student experience."
A call to the University of Alberta brought me no closer to finding out about OCTRTA. Media associate Jamie Hanlon pointed out that co-operation and sharing of resources is already underway among Edmonton's post-secondary institutions through such initiatives as the transit U-Pass and through the NEOS Library Consortium. NEOS is a consortium of government, health, college and university libraries that co-operate to share library resources, technology, collections and people—which Norquest recently joined. The University of Alberta and MacEwan are also members of the consortium.
But what could he tell us about OCTRTA? Not much, it turned out. "The University of Alberta is unaware or unable to confirm at this time any move towards a single student card that would extensively encompass courses or other resources is underway," Hanlon said.
Off to Norquest College, where media relations and communications advisor Yuri Wuensch told me that they had seen that quote of Lukaszuk's and were somewhat in the dark about what it meant. He consulted with the chief of staff in Norquest's executive office, but he, too, was unaware of any immediate plans to develop OCTRTA. He reported that the schools were in very preliminary discussions about collaboration, with a heavy emphasis on very. "They have only met once and agreed in principle to strengthen co-operation," he wrote in an email.
Both Wuensch and Hanlon directed me to a joint communiqué that was issued following this initial meeting.
"We agree that there are practical and mutually beneficial ways in which we can collaborate as institutions to take advantage of our individual strengths. These opportunities can range from administrative and support services to risk management and crisis communications. We look forward to identifying and exploring those opportunities," said the presidents of all four post-secondary institutions.
There was no mention here of OCTRTA, so, what on Middle Earth was Lukaszuk talking about? After several calls to his office, and despite assurances from one spokesperson that another spokesperson would get back to me, that didn't happen.
A phone call was made to Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education. If anyone knew what the deputy premier was talking about, they would. Suzana Krpan, spokesperson for that ministry, put an end to the quest in a one-sentence email. "There are no plans, within our ministry, to create a single ID card for all Edmonton post-secondary institutions (including NorQuest, U of A, MacEwan and NAIT)," she wrote.
But what about One Card To Rule Them All? I grew to view it as a Gollum-like riddle. And the answer appears to be that OCTRTA exists only in the mind of the deputy premier and, perhaps, somewhere in Middle Earth.
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