Alberta ups the ante in mandate fight with Athabasca University, threatens funding cuts

In its battle with Athabasca University, the Alberta government is threatening to risk losing millions of dollars in funding if it doesn’t stay busy to ensure more staff work in small northern towns to open online-oriented schools. and raised the bet.

“Universities must stop pursuing a near-hypothetical strategy and submit a new strategic plan to Advanced Education for approval by September 30,” Higher Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said in a statement on Tuesday. .

“Failure to comply will cut Athabasca’s future funding.”

Nicolaides notified the school of the change in a letter sent over the weekend.

In it, Nicolaides says the school board must be instructed by the end of August to instruct Chancellor Peter Scott to stop implementing what is known as the university’s “almost hypothetical” strategy. increase.

Additionally, the board must help Scott formulate a new strategy that “expands and strengthens the physical presence of the university in the town of Athabasca,” Nicolaides writes.

The new strategy must be submitted to Nicolaides for approval by the end of September.

Failure to do so would result in the Department of Higher Education withholding $3.43 million per month in basic operating grants for Athabasca University,” said Nicolaides.

The letter also stipulates that all executive members of the university will live in town by April 2025.

A university spokesperson, Christine Williamson, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

The letter escalates a conflict between states and universities over school authority.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the university enacted a “nearly virtual” plan to give employees more freedom over where they work. That plan accelerated when the pandemic forced people to work from home.

Scott has publicly claimed that the school’s goal is to provide the best distance learning with the best quality staff.

Nicolaides says it can maintain high quality while keeping to the pledge of economic diversification that prompted Athabasca to move from Edmonton nearly 40 years ago.

Nicolaides instructed the university in March to submit a plan to resume and expand in-person operations by June 30.

In May, the state replaced Nancy Laird as president of Athabasca University, accelerating the shift. She was replaced by Calgary attorney Byron Nelson.

Despite this, the shift was denied by Scott.

“We will continue to work continuously with a mostly virtual workforce,” Scott said in an email to staff in April.

He also noted that the universities of Calgary and Edmonton have closed their satellites to focus on Athabasca.

Nicolaides said on Tuesday that the June 30 response was inconsistent, leading to “a need for substantive action by the Alberta government”.

Local residents also took part in the fighting.

Athabasca University advocacy group Keep Athabasca insists on a more local presence, concerned that only a fraction of its approximately 1,200 staff remain in town.

The group hired lobbyists to defend its claims, and in March Prime Minister Jason Kenny himself came to town and promised to make changes to get people back together.

Athabasca College has approximately 40,000 students.

Dean Bennett

canadian press