Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Free Computer with Tuition

Well it seems that that government here in Alberta thinks that deregulation is the cure to all ills - get this (from the Edmonton Sun: The Alberta government is considering free tuition for students' first two years of post-secondary education, says Advanced Education Minister Dave Hancock. With Alberta's tuition fees the second highest in the country, Hancock said yesterday free schooling is one of several ideas being discussed as a means to increase post-secondary access and affordability across the province. He was noncommittal on his position, saying he's divided between free education - a so-called "K-14" system - and "deregulating" post-secondary. "If you'd asked me a year ago I'd have said in an ideal world that because a good liberal arts education is a value to society, we ought to pay for the first couple years," he told the Calgary Herald editorial board. "The other end of the spectrum is to deregulate it," Hancock said. "Maybe you ought to charge a little more, but throw in a computer for first-year students and part of their tuition could be tax-deductible." Ok, so let me get this straight, it's only the first two years that get this free ride and in a deregulated system that can charge anything that they might want. The government then will pay for these tuition costs. Forgive me if I gag and hack a bit. With this current government, I really doubt they will just sit idly by as the universities increase tuition to compete against rising infrastructure and salary costs. This government seems to thinking a bit cockeyed with all the surplus that is floating out there. What I see happening is the government putting a hard cap on tuition and then telling the universities that everything else has to be labelled a "fee", and therefore not covered by the government. What a generous gift to the future. Though it looks like the student governance has got the idea (same article): Student leaders say cost barriers need to be removed, but not at the expense of a post-secondary system fraught with aging infrastructure and not enough spaces. "Something like this would really help a lot of students get a foot in the door, but we would need to see more money to support those spaces," said Jen Smith, chairwoman for the Council of Alberta University Students. "Government would need to make sure base funding to university isn't sacrificed." Ok, so what has this got to do with technology? Other than the fact that it's my blog about things that I'm interested in ... The free computer line is what got me when I heard the news yesterday. Even though there have been a number of 1:1 programs that are generally successful, they all seem to have one thing that has not been mentioned in the Alberta "blue sky" comment. They all have some element of professional development for the instructors that come with the hardware. I can tell you that this likely will not be the case if this program comes to fruition (in part because the computer is a "gift" to the individual via the tax rebate and the government, not a tool integrated into the curriculum of their institution). If this happens and everyone gets a computer, who will choose the specs? Who will... well there are so many questions and in the end it would seem to me that this free computer won't really mean that much. Granted, it will help ease congestion in university labs, but if all those people not using the wired infrastructure are going to be lugging laptops, then there will need to be more wireless - more cost for infrastructure. It just seems that it's a bad idea all around. It is very likely that the computers, regardless of what other ideas instructors have for them will likely be used for communication and research, so that free computer is just an additional network node on the "SuperNet". If there is more money for the post secondary institutions, give it to them to reduce tuition across the board, improve aging facilities and allow profs to be hired to do research and then teaching on the side or bring them in to teach and then do research on the side. And for all instructional staff, provide PD to help them make use of the computers that are already available and those "free" computers that students may be getting. Technorati Tags: ,