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Independent U?

The idea of independence among universities is as old as the idea of the universities themselves, so the provincial government’s push to rebrand the advanced education system here as one big Campus Alberta is a more destabilizing idea than it seems. It makes you wish the provincial government would’ve put more effort into clarifying its points than rushing them out the door; especially since it’s apparently been in the works for years.

The Campus Alberta Strategic Directions Committee was created in 2008 by former Advanced Education Minister Stephen Khan. It consists of the board chairs of Alberta’s publicly funded post-secondary institutions, and its powers are entrenched in the Post-secondary Learning Act. That said, the use of “Strategic Directions” in its title seems misleading: the government website offers that the committee’s main focus is being a forum for the Advanced Education minister to “communicate provincial-level directions” and “enhance collaboration among institutions in order to further the vision of Campus Alberta.”

The best point being made for Campus Alberta is also its clearest: that it would remove some of the difficulties of transferring between institutions. Being forced to repeat nearly-identical courses when going from one institution to another is a frustration for students.

But then there’s the rest of it. Every other Campus Alberta point—its emphasis on reducing overlap between institutions; the idea of communal, between-institution projects; the uncertainty of institutions to operate on their own projects without influence—could charitably be called poorly argued. We have yet to see a solid case made for unifying provincial post-secondary institutions.

Instead, we’ve heard silly soundbites from provincial brass: the most quoted is Lukaszuk’s statement that, “You don’t want to have five mediocre engineering schools. You’re better off having two really good engineering schools”—we do, in fact, only have two degree-granting engineering schools in the province—but he isn’t the only one.

Statements like this offer nothing concrete to hold on to, particularly concerning when, in practice, the ideas of Campus Alberta have huge ramifications on how universities are supposed to run and work together and how future generations are supposed to learn. The autonomy post-secondary institutions have always been afforded is now under direct threat from an administrative cost-cutting push, one that’s being imposed right after a surprising budgetary nightmare was handed down, and the government can only manage a few weak rah-rah soundbites. If there are better arguments for Campus Alberta, ones that actually address its own radical nature, we’re still waiting to hear them.

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