Athabasca University – Keeping Jobs in Athabasca
Mr. Piquette: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. Athabasca University provides Albertans with a high-quality university education no matter where they live. In my riding it is also a pillar of our community, providing high-quality jobs and educational opportunities. The staff of AU and the greater Athabasca community are grateful for the support our government has provided to keep the university strong in Athabasca. However, recently there have been concerns over professional jobs being lost to big urban centres. What is the government doing to make sure that Athabasca University is sustainable and that jobs in Athabasca are protected?
The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Advanced Education.
Mr. Schmidt: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to the member for the question. He’s been a powerful advocate for Athabasca University and the town of Athabasca. We’re proud of the work that we’ve done to put AU back on track and to keep it in the town of Athabasca. We commissioned a third-party review, written by Dr. Ken Coates, and we’ve been working with AU to implement its recommendations. We’ve made clear that as progress is being made, jobs in the town of Athabasca must be protected. The Coates report calls for enhancing the role of Athabasca University in Athabasca and states that “AU should be able to maintain if not expand the size of its operations in the Town of Athabasca.”
The Speaker: First supplemental.
Mr. Piquette: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Given that under the previous Conservative government there were grave concerns about roller coaster funding and the long-term financial sustainability of AU, what has the government done to provide financial stability?
Mr. Schmidt: Well, we know that one of the favourite Conservative pastimes was making cuts to postsecondary education, and that made the problems at Athabasca University worse. We’ve been proud to increase our funding by 2 per cent for our universities and colleges every year that we’ve been in government, including at Athabasca University. We were very pleased to see that the financial reports from AU last year were positive, and thanks to our support, they are now on much more stable financial footing. If the Conservatives ever got the chance again, they’d make more cuts and undo the progress that we’ve made at Athabasca University.
The Speaker: Second supplemental.
Mr. Piquette: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Given that the Coates report provides a way forward for Athabasca University to thrive in the years to come, what is the minister doing to make sure that the third-party report is being followed through on?
The Speaker: The hon. minister.
Mr. Schmidt: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. We’re working closely with Athabasca University’s new president and board chair to see this work through. AU has been consulting and recently presented a strategic plan, which outlines a path forward and clear goals and objectives through 2022. I’ll be visiting Athabasca in the coming weeks and providing further updates on our government’s support for Athabasca University, and I look forward to having the hon. member there with me.