February 12, 2020 at 12:58 pm MST #193859DeedeeParticipant
I am wondering what all the candidates think are the most important topics for AUSU council to focus on in 2020, and why?
February 12, 2020 at 2:07 pm MST #193862AlekGolijaninParticipant
The biggest point of contention for AUSU will undoubtedly revolve around tuition rate increases, upwards of 7% over the next few years, and keep learning affordable. The reality is that AUSU cannot change the tuition increases, but we can ensure that the increased tuition revenue is reinvested into enhancing student delivery systems. Tuition is how the university makes money, and given that the province cut funding, it put AU in a difficult situation.
Regarding tuition revenue, there may be more immediate matters which AU may feel need to be addressed first, but there will never be a more important one than the overall well-being of our students. That is why it is super important for us to elect a council that will work effectively with all stakeholders, public policies and adequate funding go the furthest in improving the overall well-being of our student body. I will champion the student voice by advocating for our right to first call on those resources and capacities. With them we can aim for world-class standards, opening more doors for students that lead toward new horizons.
Thanks for your question and I look forward to earning your vote,
February 12, 2020 at 8:58 pm MST #193872Devon RomanickParticipant
Hi Deedee – great question!
I think there are a number of issues that AU students will face in 2020 and beyond, with two of the more important objectives to tackle being tuition increases and a better program/focus on mental health which segues into the barriers for social interaction that is par for the course with distance education.
Many students at AU are mature students also juggling other life commitments and financial responsibilities in addition to pursuing their educational goals. A 7% increase in tuition will be impactful for everyone which is why I believe it will be important to find a way to mitigate this impact by investing more into strengthening AU programs and services, a value added approach.
As a person familiar with the struggle of mental health, I am a firm believer in advocating for sufficient programs and services to help those who are struggling. While AU currently has services in place, there is room for improvement. Another aspect to this is the feeling of alienation that distance learning can bring. I believe this is a shared feeling for many students so it would be beneficial to develop better methods for connecting students, whether through organized socials/special events or organized in-person study groups/similar interest meet-ups in city centers (and anywhere else there is sufficient interest).
Thank you so much for posting your question!
February 12, 2020 at 9:20 pm MST #193873Darcie Lynn FlemingParticipant
Hello DeeDee, thank you for the question as I am sure it is on the mind of many students.
The major topic to focus on in the upcoming 2 years will be the tuition increase. It is difficult for AU to justify the full 7% increase especially as there was limited discussion with AUSU and the impact of this decision on students. These increases will result in people being unable to access a university education. The debt that many students accumulate to gain an education is daunting. Although we cannot change this year’s tuition, I look forward to holding AU to task that the increase will result in improvements in the experience of AU students. AUSU must continue to advocate for our students with both the provincial and federal governments to enact policies that are beneficial to students not punitive.
Tuition may be the number one concern but the experience of students also needs to be addresed. As an online university, AU should be the leader in offering cutting edge technology and there needs to be a greater conversation between faculty and students in improving the learning experience. As student representatives, we need to acknowledge the indigenous community, their perspectives and historical knowledge. We are compelled to address the specific needs of indigenous students as a result of the trauma of colonialism. The mental health of all students is also a concern as many students attempt to juggle work, studies and personal lives. Every student should feel supported and able to access services to minimize the stressors they encounter.
AUSU is committed to students and I look forward to continuing advocating for our members and addressing the pressing issues in a positive and effective manner.
February 12, 2020 at 11:34 pm MST #193874Ian StewartParticipant
We all received a letter from Athabasca U indicating that we’re getting a 7% tuition increase. The reality is we’re facing another 7% increase next year and a further 7% increase the year after that (maximum 21% over 3 years – thank you UCP), as well as a 1% increase to the interest rate in student loans.
Councillors serve a 2 year term, so these hikes are going to fall in our lap during our time as representatives. We face difficult times ahead, and our council must be present and accountable to the student body, to be reachable and respond to the concerns our students hold.
The Students Union isn’t in control of tuition prices, but they are in control of over $66, 000 in scholarship and bursaries – getting that money to the students who need it is the most important topic we face. In doing so, I hope we can lessen the stressors and anxiety that comes with a demanding academic program. The AUSU can also be an incredible avenue in regards to our wellness support program and Homewood health services, who are available 24/7 at 1-800-663-1142
More information about that program is available here:
February 13, 2020 at 10:00 am MST #193876KatyLoweParticipant
Thank you for the question! As others have commented, the financial burden to students represents a significant barrier to university education. Athabasca University prides itself on reducing obstacles to post-secondary education and being a leading example of an open university. However, this tuition increase presents a novel barrier to accessibility for many students. Although the budgetary cuts in the provincial budget have had a tremendous effect on all post-secondary institutions and tuition increases resulted, it must be noted that future increases should not, and can not, allow the maximum allowable increase year after year. The recent 7% increase already has had a tremendous effect on students, subsequent yearly increases will continue to have detrimental effects. Budgetary decisions are a prime area of student advocacy that AUSU actively pursues, and the councillors elected in this election must keep this advocacy at the forefront of their minds.
In addition to student advocacy for tuition increases, students at AU face a unique learning experience that lacks the opportunities for connection and engagement found at traditional schools. AUSU hosts several events to encourage student engagement currently. I would love to see an increase in student networking events, as well as I am a firm believer that incorporation of AUSU with AUGSA would result in mutually beneficial relationships among students. As an undergraduate student currently, I look to students in the graduate program for answers to questions regarding admissions, education trajectories, experience, and so on. Increasing these opportunities for students to connect across programs is something I would like AUSU to focus on in 2020-2022.
In relation to the tuition increases and costs to students, another issue that has been ongoing with AU and AUSU is in regards to the learning resource fees. Currently this fee is standardized and includes the resources such as text books that students require to complete their course. At this time, this fee is non-optional which removes a student’s options to purchase texts at a lower cost elsewhere, or resell their learning materials upon completion. Another issue with the universal fee is that the learning materials are often in PDF of e-text format. Although there are some benefits to having an e-text option, the inability to choose which medium a student utilizes is a point of contention that many students have. Previously AUSU has developed student advisory committees and has been working hard to advocate for student’s options in regards to e-texts and the learning resource fee. I think that continued advocacy and inclusion of student’s perspectives is incredibly important as this specific issue effects all undergraduate students.
Another issue I would like to address directly is that AUSU provides many amazing services and resources for students. However, I feel that many students are unaware of which exist and moreover, how to access them. I think that through the increased engagement of students and provision of services to guide students through accessing resources, many more students could benefit from these. For example, AUSU provides services for counselling, prescription eyewear, and pharmaceutical needs, however, I think that these services are under-utilized and with increased awareness and increased engagement, more students may have access to and utilize them to best support both their learning and their overall health as a person.
February 13, 2020 at 10:03 am MST #193877Natalia IwanekParticipant
Thank you for your question!
I think that the recent 7% tuition increase has been on all AU students’ minds during the past month. Although it will affect all students, I believe that we must take into consideration the percentage of students surviving at a lower income level. This increase may be the tipping point of students being able to continue their education and having to abandon their dreams.
With minor exceptions, minimum wage has been fairly stagnant, while rent continues to rise, Canada-wide. Many students, especially those with families, are simply unable to devote any more money to education.
Although bursaries are available from AU, AUSU, and outside sources, they are often not enough.
In addition, as AU students, we are often quite isolated because of our distance education. I would advocate strongly for increased mental health support, as well as professional networking opportunities. Many students are supporting families, working several jobs, and living in major cities, as well as remote communities. We often feel quite alone at times. I would like to change this through increased services.
Finally, I would also attempt to create increased support for new students, recent immigrants, the Indigenous community whose land we occupy, students with chronic illness and disability, as well as the queer community. School can be challenging, even without increased marginalization and difficulties.
– Natalia Iwanek
February 13, 2020 at 12:43 pm MST #193880MoniqueParticipant
Thank you for your important question.
The upcoming tuition increase, combined with many tax and student loan changes for students across the country, represent important topics of discussion for the Council and AU, are ones that are very “front and centre” for students. As has been expressed by current Council members, it is important to maintain communication between AUSU and AU, to hold AU to account for any increases in tuition, ensuring that these increases represent a necessity to replace funds previously provided by the provincial government, and not just a great opportunity and excuse to increase the tuition overall for school coffers. It must be assured that this increase is used as needed, that the funds are to maintain, and hopefully improve, the student experience at AU. Careful scrutiny of AU’s financials is important to see that these increases are being used appropriately, and that AU is questioned about any discrepancies. For example, in AU’s Strategic Plan and Annual Report, many goals and priorities are outlines, such as the ones in Table 7 of the Annual Report that relate to the affordability and financial costs and barriers for AU students. In addition, the 2019 AU Report outlines the past financial picture of AU. This report shows that, in the 2018-2019-year, AU had a surplus of $14.3 million dollars, which was mostly due to a 7.7% savings of expenses, primarily from a $4.1 million reduced expense for salaries and employee benefits. How did this translate into improved services for students when there are commonly posted issues/concerns with staff and tutor response times in many departments (anecdotal information from social media posts)? These are the issues that need to be further explored by the AUSU Council in relation to the tuition increase. Though a preliminary search for the 2019-2020 budget proved fruitless, knowing where the full 7% increase in tuition is needed would be important information, as is transparency. Furthermore, it would be important to use this review of AU’s financials to ensure that any future increases are not simply done “at the maximum” level simply because they can be done, but that potential increases are done out of sheer necessity. It would be equally important to evaluate the costs of tuition at other institutions that offer distance education to see where AU stands in relation to those. As all household funds, including education funds, become tighter for students, a more competitive environment will be created amongst institutions, thereby making it even more imperative that students are properly represented and advocated for, as this could be a reason someone chooses AU or not.
In terms of the representation and advocacy for AU students, it is important that all students are represented. Changes need to be made in how student representation is chosen. Currently, the Student Advisory Committee is represented by student from specific disciplines, but not from specific segments of the student body. For example, though the students who use the ASD program that AU offers represent approximately 14% of the student body (of which I am one, as is my husband), there is no specific representation for these students with unique needs. Just as there is no mandatory or specific representation of Indigenous individuals, except for those that self-identify once they are elected. Both the AUSU Annual Report and the AU Annual Report highlight such aspects as: the number of undergrad students; the average age of AUSU members; the portions that identify as male, female, or other; the number of AUSU members caring for dependents; the number of AUSU members who work during studies including those who work full-time; and those who are first in their family to earn a degree. Yet no statistics are reported for any other segments of the student body. In the AU 2019 Report, there is almost no mention of students with accessibility needs, or the ASD program that AU offers. When searching for the terms “ASD” or “disability,” ASD does not appear anywhere and “disability” appears only in one place in relation to students – describing bursaries available to these students. Even in the section of the document “Regional Stewardship, Foundational Learning, and Under-represented Learners,” (p. 44) students with accessibility needs are not even mentioned.
Therefore, though holding AU to account for the financial aspects of post-secondary education, such as tuition increases is very important, so too is the full representation of the student body…including those who are typically invisible.
And this is what I intend to focus on as an AUSU Councillor.
February 14, 2020 at 9:27 am MST #193882Natasha DonahueParticipant
Hey Deedee! Thank you for this question.
I believe the 7% tuition increase will be extremely important to follow. We must hold the institution accountable, specifically surrounding the conversation at the board of governors regarding the reasoning behind this increase.
I do believe, however, that there are other issues that deserve a similar level of focus. Ensuring tuition at AU will fuel student services is another big one to me. We need more access to mental health services, services for students with disabilities, indigenous student representation, and career services, among others.
Advocating to the provincial and federal governments as well as the institution is going to be one way to address these issues, but I believe AUSU can continue to be a leader by carving out pathways to some of these goals as an organization as well.
February 14, 2020 at 9:52 am MST #193883reganjohnsyParticipant
As my fellow candidates have already mentioned, the increase in tuition is going to be a huge hurdle over the coming years. Aside from the financial burden placed upon students, I believe AU needs to be apart of a bigger picture. With life becoming so expensive to live, student loans sometimes difficult to obtain, and the stress of all of that combined, many students, including myself, suffer through mental health challenges. There have been numerous times throughout my two years here with AU, that I had searched for a student support service often coming up empty-handed. I would like to help implement greater access to mental health resources for all, and easier access to information. Along with being a distant student, so many challenges we find facing ourselves, not knowing who to go to for questions – and not having a lot of access to real support systems, which can definitely feel isolated. I would love to start implementing social media study groups, and even social mixers in different cities/towns so we can go out and meet others going through the same challenges as we are. Making friends as an adult through an online study program is near impossible and I would love to help break through those barriers!
There are many other concerns that I have, and that other students have voiced regarding the course construction, course materials, possible coops, AU’s reputation, greater diversity, students with disabilities, indigenous awareness and programs, international students, and studying abroad programs, etc. that can truly make AU the best online University. Let’s put AU on the international map.
February 14, 2020 at 10:10 am MST #193884StaceyHutchingsParticipant
February 15, 2020 at 8:01 pm MST #193889alipinskiParticipant
Great question. I feel as if the most important topics for AUSU to focus on during 2020 year and looking forward to 2021 will certainly be the tuition increase topic. A 7% gradual increase is a significant increase for students at any age and point within their lives regardless of how they are funding their studies.
I believe that AUSU will need to keep consistent messaging to the University regarding the position on the value that needs to be added to the student experience. In the case of international and out of province students it is especially important for both the university itself and for both the student union associations (AUSU and AUGSA) to assist with being a positive marketing influence for perspective students as potential students have many options for selecting their university which in some cases may be less expensive and in others comparable.
Another important move will be for AUSU executive as well as AUGSA executives to partner with similar messaging and continue to advocate for funding opportunities and requirements with the provincial and federal governments whenever possible.
Thanks again for your question!
February 19, 2020 at 1:09 pm MST #193897brittanydaigleParticipant
Thank you so much for your question!
One of the most important topics for AUSU council in 2020 is going to be the 7% tuition increase and how it will affect AU students. This increase will create enormous barriers for students, especially for out of province and international students, as they already see higher tuition prices regardless of the increase.
However, there are other areas that are important that we need to work on as well, such as advocating for more research and coop opportunities, providing more mental health resources, finding ways to increase our member engagement, advocating to AU how important it is that their courses are relevant, consistent, and user-friendly, and advocating for student choice between e-textbooks and physical textbooks. There are really so many areas that we should and will continue to focus on!
February 22, 2020 at 10:35 pm MST #193934Josh RyanParticipant
I think the number one concern for all, as echoed by my fellow candidates, is the 7% tuition increase that’s not only coming for 2020 but could be seen in future years. AUSU was a voice at the table when that decision was taken by AU this year and though we were not successful, I think it’s critical that we continue to play that advocacy role going forward to minimize the impact the our student body and communicate those concerns to the University and the Board of Governors of AU so they can make an informed decision (if you want to read more about AUSU’s involvement this year, the news release can be found here https://www.ausu.org/2019/12/ausu-response-regarding-au-tuition-change/).
It’s hard to pick just two. AUSU has been involved with a number of advocacy items over the past two years that I’ve been a councillor and stretching back well before then. One that’s near and dear to me and I think many of us can relate with is mental health and engagement. Our student demographic is different than a traditional brick and mortar and we often are all balancing different priorities and different stressors. There’s some great resources out there for mental health, and we advocate strongly with CASA on that front so I think it’s key to continue that along with our engagement efforts to help our student body connect with each other and not feel so disconnected and isolated at times. Those are initiatives I’ve been proud to support in my time on council and that I’m hoping council will be able to keep working on in the next term.
Thanks for asking!
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