The Alberta provincial government announced on June 1 that it will give Athabasca University a one-time $4.9-million grant to help it implement its new strategic plan and to upgrade its outdated information technology infrastructure. This is in line with a key recommendation of the government-commissioned Coates Report into AU, released a year ago, which was that AU must complete a revised financial plan for renewal within a year.
“We have said all along that once the finances were in order and they had a solid direction to go, government would invest in Athabasca and we are making good on that,” Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt said. “We’ve been very pleased with how things have progressed…It was critical for us that Athabasca University get their house in order and have a solid plan in place.”
AU president Neil Fassina said $1.5 million will fund a five-year information technology strategy that will help shift from on-premises infrastructure to a cloud-based environment. The transition will help create “that truly digital-first and pure-digital learning environment that’s based on a cloud and code campus,” he said. In other words, AU would use a Web-based application for every task rather than installing software or storing data on a computer. Security would also be upgraded.
The main targets for the new funding include
$1.5 million implementing the AU strategic plan, Imagine: Transforming Lives and Transforming Communities
$1.5 million to implement Rise: Athabasca University’s Digital Transformation five-year IT strategy
$1.5 million for planning and development of a “student delivery framework”
$400,000 for a long-range development plan that will include a “renewal of the teaching and learning framework”
$150,000 for a consultant to develop a plan to address physical space needs, including consolidation of Edmonton-based operations into one location. In Edmonton, AU currently leases a total of 45,045 square feet of space at Peace Hills Trust Tower on 109th St. downtown and at the Faculty of Business location on St. Albert Trail at 132nd Ave. The university also owns 620 acres of land in the Athabasca area.
Schmidt said it was critical “that Athabasca University get their house in order and have a solid plan in place” and he is confident that is now the case. “Our overall goal has been to increase access to university education in Alberta and Athabasca fills that critical role,” he said.
We appreciate the fact that the provincial government has provided additional funding to AU. It is a positive change from the previous President’s exaggerated moaning about “impending financial collapse”. However, as we have said before, it is still somewhat unclear as to what changes have been or will be implemented at AU to justify this upsurge of confidence by the Minister. Certainly, our members have not noticed any significant alterations in terms of the work that they do and the conditions under which they do it. We would appreciate some more comprehensive information on that, perhaps through the current President’s online newsletter, in the near future.