Athabasca University: Wikis


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Athabasca University
Motto Canada's Open University
Established 1970
Type Public
President Dr Frits Pannekoek
Students 29,926
Undergraduates 27,107
Postgraduates 2,819
Location Athabasca, Alberta, Canada
Campus Rural
Tutors 332
Colours blue      green     
Nickname AU
Affiliations ACU, AUCC, CVU, UArctic, CBIE, CUP.

Athabasca University is a public university headquartered in Athabasca, Alberta. It is a fully accredited institution specialized in the delivery of distance education courses and programs. Courses are offered in both English and French. A high school diploma is not required for admission; however, there is an age minimum of sixteen years.[1] They serve 32,000 students per year.[2] In 2004, Athabasca's Executive MBA was rated in the top 75 by the Financial Times, the only executive MBA on the list that is delivered entirely online.[3] Part of the University's holdings include a residence for the President.[4]



The university was created by the Alberta government in 1970, Athabasca University was formed when a fourth traditional university could not be justified. It grew out of the development that occurred after the University of Alberta had long been established, and following the creation of the University of Calgary after legislation had been changed, and following an order in council creating the University of Lethbridge.[4]

New teaching and learning ideas for post-secondary students were studied and considered. A pilot project was developed starting in 1972 in which students enrolled. After being considered a success, the university was granted a permanent, self-governing status in 1978. Athabasca University moved 145 kilometres north from Edmonton to the town of Athabasca, Alberta in 1984 due to an increase in enrollment. Satellite centers are in Calgary and Edmonton.[5]

In 1967 the Manning government announced its intention to establish a fourth University, but it was later delayed by two to three years. The University of Alberta wanted to expand rather than see another University open in Edmonton to compete with it. One proposal favoured establishing a Christian university instead of a secular one to cope with rising enrollment. One early suggestion for an alternative was an "Alberta Academy" that would take credits students had earned at multiple Universities and evaluate them for transfer, and perhaps even award a degree. A department of education ad hoc group favoured the establishment of a fourth University.[4]

A group of University of Alberta graduates, which included Preston Manning helped influence the development of an independent fourth University. In 1970 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Grant MacEwan established the University by an order in council. The name for the new University was a challenge to choose, not wanting to associate the University with a city that already had a University, in a primarily rural province. Athabasca Hall a student residence at the University of Alberta was scheduled for demolition, so the name was appropriated for the new University.[4]


The mandate

Front entrance.

The initial mandate for the University dictated that it be primarily undergraduate in scope. Developing new procedures in curriculum was part of the mandate for the University. The initial Governing Authority of the University had eight members, and a broad range of powers to set up the new University. July 2 - 3, 1970 they met for the first time, and Carl W. Clement was the first chairman. It was expected by the government of the day that by 1979 the University would have 10,000 students. September 1, 1973 was set as the target date to open.[4]

Telic reforms were considered for the new University as part of the structure. Learning models and modalities from the University of Sussex were also considered because of their approach to independent based learning. The University of California at Santa Cruz was also looked at for their models, because at the time they were a relatively new University with a fresh approach to learning, and their structure. By 1971 the study of models of reforms was completed.[4]

A President is appointed

In April 1971 Tim Byrne was appointed President of the new University, and he assumed office June of that year.[4]

The administration chose the Santa Cruz campus of the University of California as its model, deciding that the individual college should serve as the basic planning unit for our new university, which would be organized as a federation of colleges[4] Each of the colleges of the new University was to have 650 students, and needed lecture and office space to reflect that. As well they wanted to adopt a learning approach that would have students learning in small tutorials instead of large lectures. Research within the new university was to be limited to a specified region starting around the city of Edmonton. One criticism was that the University was trying to do too much.[4]

The government of Peter Lougheed in 1971 brought a change, which included a cabinet portfolio specifically for post secondary education. The newly-elected Conservative government was opposed to building a new University in Edmonton, but architectural plans were permitted to continue. A proposal was made to the government to test the new model for 3 – 5 years, and if that succeeded, they would become a fully independent University. This happened under the chairmanship of Merrill Wolfe. The proposal was accepted by the government.[4]

One of the trends brought out by the new Deputy Minister of Advanced Education in the summer of 1972 was a demand for lifelong continuing education. An identified need was for an "Alberta Academy" which would evaluate University courses that were taken at multiple institutions. The academy would then award a degree. A second proposal came from the University to also serve part time students, and it would not affect the other traditional Universities already established, or the new approach of Athabasca University. An open door policy was part of this proposal, removing admission requirements.[4]

In 1972 a new order in council was issued to include only the new pilot project of distance education.[4]

The first course

Study manual/guides from AU courses

Trial and error procedures were used during the trial period, as there was no model to follow in the field and mandate the staff of the University were given. In 1973 the University began to advertise for students to help with course development. A course "World Ecology" was the first course, and was the core of the pilot project. In-house production of the learning packages was important to the staff, so the University developed its own printing process.[4]

Contrary to much current belief, Athabasca University was not modelled after the Open University, but was developed in its present form during the pilot project. We became aware of what the Open University was doing when, during the final year of the project, we sent a representative to Milton Keynes to discover any methods its staff might have devised to speed up production.[4]

In 1975 plans came together to reach out to students by developing field services tutors, and regional learning centres. In 1976 the first 24 part time telephone tutors were appointed. The tutor role was to facilitate learning, not teach the course. Tutors are assigned blocks of 20 - 40 students each. An unlisted toll-free number is provided to contact the tutor with. All tutors have at least a Masters degree.[4]

An early test project for a learning resource centre had books and tapes relevant to the courses available at branches of public libraries through out the province. Although the libraries were keen on the idea, learners preferred to remain in their homes to learn. By 1975 the median age was 35 - 40, and there were 725 students. A minority of students had only completed grade 9.[4]

Inviting students to register in a course and then forcing them to wait an unconscionable length of time for delivery of units was obviously not a way to establish a reputation as a reliable institution.[4]

In 1975 at the end of the pilot project, an agency was appointed to evaluate the overall success. A recommendation was made to the government that the University be made a permanent member of the university system. It was to remain an open university. Under the chairmanship of Edward Checkland, the University gained permanency.[4]

In 1976 W. A. Samuel Smith took over as President of the University, and the University's permanency was put in through an act of the Alberta Legislature.[4]

The first collaboration the University embarked on was with Keyano College, which eventually lead to the opening of a regional learning office in Fort McMurray, Alberta. North Island College in 1976 took on the challenge of delivering many courses from the University in its many campuses.[4]

In the mid-seventies, two young Canadians, one of whom was the son of a prominent Edmonton family, were indicted in an English court for attempting to smuggle drugs into the country. They were each sentenced to a lengthy prison term and incarcerated in one of England's most infamous prisons. Each registered in one of Athabasca University's first three courses, becoming the first two in a long list of prison inmates to join its student body.[4]

In 1985 an agreement was reached with the Correctional Service of Canada regarding the payment of tuition and program delivery fees related to federal inmates taking courses through the University. [4]

Distance education

Water fountain at the University

Athabasca has programs which are geared to continuing education using modern communications technology, have attracted participation by students from around the world. The university also has on-line study programs and has a web site for that purpose.[6]


Athabasca University reports to the government through the Minister of Advanced Education and is publicly funded through the Province of Alberta. The University's Governing Council is authorized to grant degrees through the Post-Secondary Learning Act along with governing its own affairs. Members of the Governing Council are appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in council.[7]

The University is accredited with the United States by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.[8]

Select memberships


AU is Canada's only exclusively open University, and Maclean's Magazine called it Canada's fastest growing university.[9] 50% of AU's students are between the ages of 25 and 44, and admissions are year round. AU plays host to 3 Canada Research Chairs.[10] 260,000 students have taken courses since the University was founded.[11]

AU has 27,107 undergraduate students, with 77 undergraduate programs. Of that 2 are University Diplomas, 14 are University Certificiates, and 1 is a certificate of completion.[12]


AU spends over $2 million per year on research.[11] The University has 3 Canada Research Chairs. The Centre for Research is the primary centre at the University, along with the Centre for World Indigenous Knowledge and Research.


In 2004, Athabasca's Executive MBA was rated in the top 75 by the Financial Times, the only executive MBA on the list that is delivered entirely online. The EMBA has since fallen from the FT rankings, and doesn't show up in the 2009 FT rankings for EMBA. [3] In 2005 38% of the students in the MBA program were female.[13] AU has never been included in the annual rankings by Macleans Magazine,[14] because of its "special mission."[15]

In October 2008, Athabasca was named one of Alberta's Top Employers by Mediacorp Canada Inc., which was announced by the Calgary Herald[16] and the Edmonton Journal.[17][18]

Athabasca University books

AU's classes are taught in several ways:

  • Individual study: Students are provided with the textbooks, computer software, and video material required. A pre-set recommended schedule comes with each course in a "course reader". The student is then free to study as they wish. Students have up to 6 months to finish their course, unless they have received a student loan, in which case, they have up to 4 months. Courses start at the beginning of each month.
  • Grouped study: Offered primarily to students physically in Alberta, this method allows students to get together with other students in the same course, and study in a manner similar to that of a regular university. Students studying in this method have up to 4 months to complete their course. Courses start in September and January.[19]


In 2004 Alberta Premier Ralph Klein was accused of plagiarism in a paper he wrote for an Athabasca University course.

Some notable people have studied through Athabasca University, including Alberta politician Debby Carlson[20], Olympic bobsleigh racer Christian Farstad[21], Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, professional hockey player Alyn McCauley[22], and cross-country skier Milaine Thériault.[23] The University services over 32,000 people per year, and currently has 29,926 students.[citation needed]


In May 2004 the Premier of Alberta, Ralph Klein, brought public attention to the university due to allegations that he had plagiarized a paper that he submitted for a communication studies course he took from the school. While speaking before the provincial legislature, he held up a copy of the paper to provide evidence on his views about former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet. Afterwards, there was public criticism that portions of five pages of the 13-page paper had been copied from the Internet without proper citations to the sources.[24] The university investigated the matter and told the news media that Klein's instructor had noted the mistake when grading the paper and offered guidance for correcting it. A university spokesman described the failure to properly cite sources as a "relatively minor error, undisputed by [the] student, easily corrected, and not an ongoing or repeated problem."[25]

See also

Further reading

  • Small, Michael W. "A Case Study of Educational Policy-making: The Establishment of Athabasca University." Ph.D. diss., University of Alberta, 1980.


  1. ^ "Undergraduate calendar". Athabasca University. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  2. ^ "About Athabasca University". Athabasca University. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  3. ^ a b "EMBA rankings 2009". Retrieved 2009-09-11. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Byrne, T.C. (1989). Athabasca University The Evolution of Distance Education. Calgary, Alberta: University of Calgary Press. pp. 135. ISBN 0-919813-51-8. 
  5. ^ "History of Athabasca University". Athabasca University. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  6. ^ "Athabasca University". Canadian Business Schools. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  7. ^ "Athabasca University Regulation, Alta. Reg. 50/2004". CanLII. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  8. ^ "Database of Institutions Accredited By Recognized U.S. Accrediting Organizations". Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  9. ^ "The chalkboard is dead: researchers". Macleans Magazine. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  10. ^ "Canadian Research Chairs". Government of Canada. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  11. ^ a b "Facts & Statistics". Athabasca University. Retrieved 2007-09-16. 
  12. ^ "Undergraduate Degree Programs List". Athabasca University. Retrieved 2007-09-16. 
  13. ^ "Athabasca University". Business Week. Retrieved 2007-09-16. 
  14. ^ "Universities drop out of Maclean's survey". The Gateway. Retrieved 2007-09-16. 
  15. ^ "Time again for Maclean's rankings". University Affairs. Retrieved 2007-09-16. 
  16. ^ "Calgary Herald, "Alberta’s top 40 places to work”, October 18, 2008". 
  17. ^ "Edmonton Journal, "Alberta's best focus on attracting, keeping staff", October 31, 2008". 
  18. ^ "Reasons for Selection, 2009 Alberta's Top Employers competition". 
  19. ^ "Who studies at AU". Athabasca University. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  20. ^ "Centre for Innovative Management Update". Athabasca University.$File/2003FallNewsletter.pdf!OpenElement. Retrieved 2007-08-22. 
  21. ^ "Olympian joins the Canadian Olympic Committee in new role". Canadian Olymptic Committee. Retrieved 2007-08-22. 
  22. ^ Koshan, Terry. "No end in sight". CANOE. Retrieved 2007-08-22. 
  23. ^ "Milaine Thériault". Cross Country Canada. Retrieved 2007-08-22. 
  24. ^ "Klein accused of lifting info for school essay". May 14, 2004. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  25. ^ Klein cleared of plagiarism by his university, Canadian Press, May 28, 2004 (on website; accessed November 4, 2007)

External links

Coordinates: 54°43′20.63″N 113°18′12.19″W / 54.7223972°N 113.3033861°W / 54.7223972; -113.3033861


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