Dumbing down Alberta
By: Alan Murdock
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 21, 2013 06:00 am
Whatever happened to the pursuit of excellence in Alberta education?
Our Alberta government seems to have abandoned this goal in its approach to implementing Campus Alberta. On the face of it, if a post secondary educational institution is granted a charter as a university, it makes sense that those students who pass courses at one university should be accredited that same course at any of Alberta’s universities. Post secondary education should be portable between university faculties without restriction.
And if universities are all offering the same levels of education, then all should be treated equally in terms of funding by the provincial government.
In reality however, such a broad approach ends up moving everyone to the middle. It brings to mind the immortal words of former Premier Ralph Klein, whose goal in implementing provincial achievement tests was to have every elementary school student in Alberta score above the mean. Ralph’s musing on success in education makes about as much sense as the averaging down of our best universities.
There was a time in this province when the pursuit of excellence was the hallmark of our provincial leaders’ policies. Certainly it was so when Premier Rutherford established the University of Alberta by bringing the best of minds from McGill University, then a pioneer in reaching out across Canada in starting up new institutions of advanced learning. And it was the University of Alberta that went outside its campus boundaries in setting up CKUA in 1927 and the Banff Centre in 1933 through its Department of Extension. In 1945 it also established a campus in Calgary, which was granted its own charter in 1966 as the University of Calgary.
The modern era of excellence in education became a government priority when Peter Lougheed came to power. As a point source of action, Premier Lougheed, changed the Banff School of Fine Arts from operating only in the summer, to the year round Banff Centre for Continuing Education focusing on the arts, management and conferences. It is now recognized as a national arts training institute and as a world-class centre of learning in arts, science, business and environment. Its attendees include Nobel laureates and international pioneers in the performing arts. Banff Centre’s peer group and impact is global.
And so too should the University of Alberta be treated by our premier. Its peer group is MIT, Cambridge Harvard, McGill, Oxford, and University of Toronto. Downgrading it by ramming it into Campus Alberta with blunt global chopping of financial support without examining its, and Alberta’s, national and international educational role and potential, is retrograde and irresponsible.
Happily, the potential for a return to the pursuit of excellence in education was ignited this past week when the Lougheed family, the Banff Centre and the University of Alberta announced the creation of the Peter Lougheed Leadership Initiative. It is a unique project offering the very best of our university students, across faculty boundaries, an opportunity for advanced learning in leadership, executive skills and management expertise, taking place in two internationally recognized Alberta-based centres of excellence in learning.
Sadly the premier and her deputy premier ignored the event. It appears that she and her cabinet have abandoned the encouragement or pursuit of excellence by our university students. One hopes that, on reflection, Premier Redford’s face will turn the same colour as her deputy premier’s neck.
Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.