Meeting: Alberta Student Awards Personnel Association (ASAPA)

Ab-GPAC was invited to provide student input on tuition, at the ASAPA executive board meeting in Edmonton on February 20, 2018. During the 90 minute session the following topics were discussed:

  • ASAPA chair provided an update on their priorities and policy focus for 2018/2019
  • ASAPA an organization with over 40 years of experience offered themselves as a tuition resource, as they are subject matter experts and primarily PSI staff specializing in student funding
  • ASAPA noted that they they desire to build a relationship with the three other student advisory groups (ASEC, CAUS and Ab-GPAC) going forward
  • ASAPA committed to sending their updated policies to the three student advocacy groups present

We look forward to continued opportunities to connect and build a relationship with ASAPA!

UofL Meeting of the Minds- March 24, 2018

The UofL Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) is pleased to invite students, faculty, staff and community members to attend the 12th Annual Meeting of the Minds Inter-Disciplinary Conference on the 24th of March, 2018 in the Markin Hall Atrium. Free parking is available at the University on the day of the event.

Our conference theme this year is “Accessibility”. The theme was chosen to honor the ever increasing need to bridge the gap between academia and application and to create environments where research is accessible and inclusive.

If you have any questions or would like more information please email Faye at

Please join us for all or some sessions, the keynote address and for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. The graduate students and the Graduate Students’ Association would be grateful for your support.

Feb 8, 2018 Student Leader Meeting Summary

The three provincial student advocacy groups, staff and student leaders, gathered with Advanced Education staff on Feb 8, 2018 for our quarterly meeting.  In session the ADM reassured us that although it did not appear externally that there was any progress being made on the funding formula for PSI, there was progress being made within the Ministry.  We were asked and provided feedback (again) on tuition principles.  And the feedback that was that consistent amongst the three advocacy groups was: Students need predictability and stability in tuition and that principle should apply to International Student tuitions. After we talked money, we were provided with a presentation from the Ministry staff that compile statistical data and from the ACAT staff. We have requested that our next meeting allow for our new student leader representatives to be present and that the SL Orientation to Government be in late June versus September.  That’s all folks!

STUDENT JOBS! Healthy Campus Alberta Closing Feb 12th

Interested in MH? Community Consultation? Event Planning?

Hello Central & Northern Based Graduate Students!
We have been presented with an opportunity for collaboration that may be of interest to graduate students.
UAlberta in partnership with Healthy Campus Alberta (HCA), is beginning the process of planning a spring mental health event to support community dialogue that helps guide next steps in supporting mentally healthy campuses. It will also contribute foundational information to the HCA Wellness Summit conversation on the topic of Transitions taking place June 14 &15 at UCalgary.
The Health & Wellness Team at the University of Alberta and HCA, would like a graduate student representative from the Edmonton or northern areas to join our Advisory Panel. The panel will provide direction and guidance for the event throughout the planning process. This will include sharing experiences, ideas, and connections. 
The intended goal is to provide an opportunity for community generated conversation that captures the experiences of northern Alberta. Through interactive workshops, the event will build into HCA’s Wellness Summit. Working together, they hope to advance awareness of mental health, mental illness, and systemic factors that are currently impacting post-secondary. Through campus and community collaboration, they endeavor to support a mentally healthy post-secondary sector!
The commitment would last until June 2018 with team meetings held approximately once a month. I have asked the Advisory Committee lead to confirm:
-The monthly commitment ( 2 hours, half a day, full day/month) for the student representative on the Advisory Panel?
-Whether there will be expectations for work between meetings?
If you are interested in joining the Advisory Team, please let Nicole Van Kuppeveld, ED Ab-GPAC at know ASAP.
Also mark your calendars for June 14/15 HCA Wellness Summit which will be held at UofC!

Sharing Impacts of Mental Health Grant Funding

Sharing Impacts of Mental Health Grant Funding

The mental health grant announced by Advanced Education is going to allow campuses to expand the services they offer, better support their students, and develop a mentally health space for students to learn in.

During the months of November and December, the ab-GPAC ED and a director were invited to attend in-person consultations with the Post-secondary Mental Health Measurement and Evaluation Working Group to discuss the best way to successfully and holistically assess how the funding for Mental Health (MH) allocated to 22 Post Secondary Institution (PSI) campuses in Alberta are being used. The sessions brought together student leaders from ab-GPAC and CAUS, psychologists working at post secondary institutions, policy advisors, academics, researchers, and other mental health professionals.

During the first phase, ideas for possible programs or ways of being mentally healthy and supportive were discussed. For example, a discussion ensued on how environment can have a positive or negative impact on mental health. One of the most important points that came from the initial session was that there needs to be a way to report how programs are making a difference. Another key point was that oftentimes post secondary institutions cannot control what the initial point of access is when a student is in crisis. For example, a student may feel more comfortable disclosing something to a teaching assistant they are close to rather than a MH counsellor. This discussion queried whether training such as ASIST or MH First Aid would be appropriate for faculty. In order for students to be mentally healthy, flourish and be supported, it is imperative that a strong MH infrastructure and MH staff be in place.

During the second phase, the focus was on how to achieve success on campus, reporting format and template were the desired outcome. Discussion focused on a need to capture qualitative data allowing PSI to tell stories about how their students have been successful; often more powerful and telling than quantitative data showing how many students accessed a service. Another important discussion involved criteria for selection of which ideas each campus choose to implement and means to measure their impact.  The discussion arose over surveying students; many felt students are already over surveyed. Suggestions were made that student organizations could also be a point of contact to collect information on the mental health of students, as well as the providers of MH services. In the end, the group decided that it was important to find a balance of data and qualitative experiences, so that a better picture could emerge of how the funding was being used at each of the funded PSI’s.

For more information on the MH grant visit:

FAQs about the mental health grant:

Advanced Ed release about the funding


The Professional Development Stigma

by Brendan Cummins

This post is part of a series of personal reflections by members on graduate student issues in Alberta. It is intended to stimulate discussion and does not necessarily reflect the collective position of ab-GPAC. You can view more in these series here.

I really don’t like the words “professional development.”

For me, and many others, these are two words that conjure images of people sitting around a table learning how to make lesson plans or listening to lectures on how to lecture. It is also the image that many outside of graduate programs have when I talk about the importance of professional development programs to graduate students.

“What do you need professional development for? You got a degree, didn’t you?”

These words echo a sentiment that often comes up when I talk to people about what I’m going to do after grad school. To many outside academia, what we learn through our research or in the classroom provides a strong enough base to succeed post-graduation. The perception of faculty, administration, and those outside academia of what a grad student needs in terms of professional development is often a far cry from reality. In non-academic careers and career paths, there is an understanding that to be better at what you do requires continuous training. Most successful corporations and organization encourage and promote courses and ongoing learning opportunities for their employees. But when professional development is approached in an academic setting it is often focused on the classroom, and outside of graduate programs the inherent value of the training is lost. As I heard one professor say, “My students are too busy for any of that. I wouldn’t let them take anything like that anyway.” The perception of professional development programs being a waste of time are a not-so-well-hidden secret among some faculties and programs. The need to develop skills beyond running a lab, preparing a lecture, or project management gets lost in a discussion of added academic value.

Generally, universities understand the need for developing the skills of graduate students and have created programs to address this need. Across the country, professional development programs attempt to develop skills to help a student in and out of the classroom. But as Rachel Cayley wrote in a 2016 post on University Affairs, “Traditionally, graduate programs have been good at training students to do a certain sort of academic work, but less good at supporting a wider range of ancillary skills.” Most professional development programs focus around how to improve a students’ skills in a way that bridges the academic and non-academic worlds. However, in many cases that bridge is built using academic or business models of training, encouraging the development of the so-called “soft skills” and promoting how “transferable” these skills are. When someone looks at the list of topics offered to graduate students on the University of Alberta, Calgary, and Lethbridge campuses, they are focused into three areas: teaching, research, and careers. Within this framework a grad student is essentially offered two choices, how to be a better academic and how to find a job if you don’t want to be an academic.

Relevance and Engagement

The problem I see is with the focus. Institutions create programs with the intention of helping grad students develop skills that are transferable from degree to workplace. Soft skills are becoming more important in many programs, but often they are created by the institutions telling the students what they need. These same programs are funded through either special, limited funding from the provincial government or through what extra time and money is available from other campus units. Professional development is tailored by the institutions based on their needs and their ability to fund the programs. With the continued tightening of purse strings in the post-secondary world, programs like THRIVE at the University of Lethbridge are facing challenges related the personnel required to operate and the funding to continue. As institutions look for ways to make up budget shortfalls, professional development falls in to the category of valuable, but non-essential.

As programming suffers, so too does student engagement. While programs look to bridge gaps between academic and non-academic they often miss some of the things that grad students are looking for. In tailoring to a broad spectrum of students, programs miss out on specific wants or academic subsets. “Project Management” or “Networking” courses are titled and designed to appeal to many, but in that broad appeal they end up attracting few. And those they do attract are  often the same students who attend every workshop, not the broad cross section hoped for. If professional development was truly a priority, institutions would dig deep with former and current students to discover what is really needed and wanted. Offering development on teaching is valuable to any grad student, but so is a follow up on how that can be applied in the wide world post-grad school.

These types of initiatives require money, time, and commitment by government and institutions to realize the importance of giving grad students more than a classroom education. By giving us the tools to disseminate our research in an accessible manner, by teaching us how to talk about our work to a broader audience, by showing us how to transfer our skills, and by demonstrating that innovation comes in many forms and fashions, professional development programs can add so much to the already high value of a graduate degree. But there needs to be the commitment to giving graduate students what the University of Alberta website calls, “the ability to meet, exceed, and adapt to personal, career, and societal responsibilities within the context of a changing world.”

So, maybe we can stop calling it “professional development.” Maybe we need to find some new words to truly cover what it is we need and want out of these programs. How about “engagement and enhancement.” Or maybe “post-graduate success.” When we find words to describe the depth and breadth of what we want to be when we leave our graduate programs and what we really bring to the table, we can start creating programs to match.

Until then I still really dislike those two words.

Provincial Pre-budget Meeting

Provincial Pre-budget Meeting hosted by Advanced Education (AE) was rescheduled to later in the day December 14th, as the Legislative session had been extended. The Minister for AE was not present; his Chief of Staff chaired the meeting. Minister of Finance, Joe Ceci facilitated a roundtable discussion with executive  representatives from provincial advocacy groups and all of the Post Secondary Institutions.  Minister Ceci asked them to share their budget priorities and whether there were any additional cuts that they could make to their budgets. abGPAC priorities were identified as (i) stable funding packages for graduate students, (ii) removal of tuition freeze, and (iii) that international tuition not be used to close budget gaps at our four member institutions.  There was no confirmation regarding whether  PSI budget demands (4%) will be met, nor whether a 2% across the province budget increase or 0% budget will be made this coming provincial budget year. Discussion then went to the vision for post secondary education in Alberta.

Response to Advanced Education Announcement of Tuition Freeze

Earlier today, Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt announced a continued freeze on tuition for the upcoming academic year. While a backfill of “up to $17 million” was mentioned in the announcement, details of how this money will be allocated to the myriad of post-secondary institutions in Alberta is not expected until March, and it is unclear if the amount of money allocated for backfill will adequately cover the inflationary cost that institutions face.

Ab-GPAC has two major concerns with the announcement to freeze tuition, despite relatively aligned stakeholder consensus that tuition should follow an inflationary indicator of some kind.

Our first concern surrounds the lack of regulation of international student tuition and fees. Our fear is that institutions will use this flexibility as a lever to compensate for the budget shortfall that will occur as a result of the decision to freeze tuition. International students have a positive impact on the learning and research outcomes of graduate students, undergraduate learners and institutions, and on the Alberta economy. We strongly recommend that institutions apply the freeze mandated by the government to international tuition and fees as well.

Our second concern is one of institutional quality. Tuition forms a significant portion of the operating budgets of institutions, and given the reality of inflation, a tuition freeze means that budgets/revenues will be reduced across institutions. This could/will result in lower quality education, research support, and student services. Graduate students choose where to study primarily on the quality of research and education at these institutions, and students will choose to go elsewhere if the services and support they need are not there.

Graduate students are at the forefront of innovation, research, and economic development in the province. They are the entrepreneurs, leaders, and economic drivers of tomorrow. These exceptional people have chosen institutions in Alberta precisely because of their quality, and they continue to bring value to Alberta after earning their degrees as, graduate students educated here put Alberta on the world stage.

We are looking forward to future announcements from the ministry on issues surrounding international students and for clarity surrounding the promised $17 million support for institutions.

To view Edmonton Journal Article with quote from Ab-GPAC Chair visit: