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Meet the Minister: Marlin Schmidt

By Evan Osenton

 

AV: What do you see as the purpose of post-secondary education?

It serves two purposes. The first is to create well-educated citizens who are prepared to engage in public discourse and public life in the province. The second is related but separate: we have to give people the skills they need to go to work. We do a pretty good job of both in Alberta—but we need to increase opportunities for higher education.

AV: Are those purposes ever at odds?

I don’t think so. Going to work is a valuable contribution to public life. But it’s not the only contribution to public life that people can make.

AV: What should the relationship between employers and post-secondaries be?

Students need to know that the training they’re receiving will prepare them for work. Employers want to ensure that the people they hire are educated to fill the roles they have. In some cases, it’s acceptable for the oil and gas industry to have a say in what they want a welder to be able to do. But should pharmaceutical companies have a say in what’s studied in a philosophy class? Maybe not. An important interplay needs to happen between universities, colleges and employers in deciding appropriate roles in developing curriculum and training students.

AV: Why are you changing colleges—for example, Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC)—into universities?

Well, the short answer is because they asked us to. The longer answer is we know from data that the farther from a university you live, the less likely you are to get a university education. We want to make sure more Albertans have the opportunity to get a university degree close to home. Making the trip from Grande Prairie to Edmonton or to Calgary is often too big a barrier for potential students to overcome.

AV: Could the changeover devalue certificates and diplomas?

No, the colleges intend to keep their current programs and just want to add degrees. This will create more pathways for students. Perhaps they’ll start in a certificate or a diploma program, and if they’re really interested in the material or want to pursue further education they’ll go on to a university degree.

AV: Why did you freeze tuition?

When we took office we had the highest average tuition in the country, and now, after three years of a freeze—we’ve announced a fourth as well—we’re in the middle of the pack. So while other jurisdictions let tuition increase, ours remained frozen, and university is now more affordable in Alberta.

AV: Newfoundland and Ontario have eliminated tuition for low-income students. Would you consider that?

Well, it’s something we had considered. It’s a bit out of reach given the province’s fiscal situation. But creating more opportunities for low-income Albertans to pursue higher education is important. That’s why we’ve expanded the student loan program, created scholarships for Indigenous students, announced another $7-million in scholarships.

Interviewed by Evan Osenton. Evan is the editor of Alberta Views.

Find the full article in the September 2018 issue of Alberta Views.

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