The president of Athabasca University says the province’s demands are useless IG News

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Edmonton –

The president of the University of Athabasca says the Alberta government’s demand that the online school transfer 500 employees to a rural town is so backward, unfair and self-defeating, it is putting the institution “on the way to ruin”. makes threats.

Peter Scott says he’s all for economic growth in Athabasca, a city of less than 3,000 located 145 kilometers north of Edmonton. But he says he does not understand why Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nikolaides is seeking to make his school a key economic driver.

He also questions spending money to furlough and accommodate hundreds of employees while not advancing the school’s core mission of quality online education – if they will come.

Scott said the school has successfully bounced back from near bankruptcy in 2015, has money in the bank, is scaling up its programs and boasts 40,000 virtual learners across Canada.

“Why are we in talks about budget cuts for a university that is doing so well? It’s a strange place,” Scott said in an interview on Friday.

“If you want to help rural Alberta, there is probably another minister who has an investment fund that can really help that community – and I would be very happy to have that community as a mainstay to contribute.” .

“But I shouldn’t be asked to divert student money to do that work. The government of Alberta should take note of this and move forward with it.”

Earlier on Friday, Scott, in a web video for staff and students, urged concerned people to contact Nicolaides and convey their feelings, telling them, “The university could set back 40 years by signing this agreement. And can lead it to ruin.”

A week earlier, Nicolaides ordered the school to come up with a plan within two months so that more staff and executive members could physically work in Athabasca.

If the school does not implement the relocation plan, the minister warned that the school could face performance grant cuts of $3.4 million a month.

Athabasca currently employs only 300 university employees, representing a quarter of the total school workforce.

The rest work remotely. Of those remote workers, the school says one in three lives in rural areas—either Athabasca or elsewhere, with the workforce scattered across 100 towns, villages, and hamlets in Alberta.

Scott said Nicolaides is seeking 500 more employees, including executive members, who will move to the city by 2025.

In the web video, Scott said, Nicolaides has “put (the university) in an unfair and unsustainable position.”

He said that if the university board of governors did vote for the plan, it would be impossible to enforce relocation costs as well as strict deadlines for employees and their families – meaning the school could lose its funding for not complying. Will give

Still, he said, if the school doesn’t sign the deal by the end of September, it could lose its funding anyway — nearly a quarter of the budget, with bankruptcy compulsively complied.

Nicolaides was not available for an interview, but said in a statement, “This government will not miss its support of (Athabasca University) as a major economic and social driver in the Northern Territory.

“Alberta taxpayers deserve to see their millions of dollars in funding for this institution that benefits the local community and Albertans alike.”

The minister said he took the next step with a September deadline because the university failed to deliver a workable employee transfer plan when instructed to produce one in June.

“Lack of planning has forced us to develop our own roadmap,” Nicolaides said.

The statements are the latest step in a five-month standoff between the minister and the school.

Nicolaides has said the school could still be effective while helping the economy grow but Scott has resisted. He said this change would make it difficult to recruit top talent and flourish in online education.

More importantly, Scott said, it upheld the rationale for the school’s existence.

“The majority of our performance grants are now tied to metrics that support the economic development of a city of 2,800 people, rather than a student body of 40,000,” he said.

The change was announced earlier in the year after a local lobby group – called Keep Athabasca at the University of Athabasca – lobbied for more administrative staff and executive members to work in the city to help boost the economy. .

In March, Premier Jason Kenney came to the city to promise that the province would make changes to bring people back.

To further that goal, Nicolaides replaced the chair of the board of governors in May and added more town members to the board of governors.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on August 5, 2022.

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