AU president launches bold new vision for Canada’s open university
Athabasca University “shatters barriers to post-secondary education … No person is left behind,” says newly installed president Dr. Alex Clark
Athabasca University will build on its strengths as it looks toward the future, providing even more opportunities for all students, regardless of background or circumstances, says newly installed president Dr. Alex Clark.
“From its founding, this university has shattered barriers to post-secondary education, providing access to a transformative university education irrespective of sex, gender, race, place, irrespective of physical ability or age. No person is left behind at Athabasca University,” Clark said during his Oct. 12 installation address in AU’s home community of Athabasca, Alta.
“No person is left behind at Athabasca University.”– Dr. Alex Clark, AU's 11th president
Meeting demands for skilled workforce
As Canada’s only fully open and online university, AU will build partnerships and collaborations in communities both near and far, to advance research and to educate a new generation of skilled graduates and workers in Alberta and beyond.
By 2025, Alberta alone will face a labour shortage of 33,000 people, and by 2030, that number will grow to 46,000, Clark said.
“AU has never been more needed,” he said. “AU provides learning opportunities for upskilling and reskilling to develop our talent, right here in Alberta and across the world.”
In rural and remote communities, AU fills a critical need by meeting learners where they are, allowing them to study while they work, parent and contribute to their home communities.
About 70% of undergraduate program students at AU are the first in their family to attend university. AU’s unique student population includes 66% women, many of them working and raising families. The average age of an AU student is 33.
President’s Award for Rural Alberta Nursing Students
As the former dean of AU’s Faculty of Health Disciplines, Clark said he is particularly proud that the university runs the largest nurse practitioner program and educates more undergraduate nursing students than anywhere in Canada. More than a third of Canada’s nurse practitioners are educated at AU.
To further support health care education, he announced the establishment of the President’s Award for Rural Alberta Nursing Students, which will help AU students living in rural Alberta to gain valuable experience in rural health care.
Clark was appointed president of AU in February. Since that time, he has worked to forge strong ties with the community and region of Athabasca.
His formal installation ceremony was attended by community members, AU team members, colleagues from across Alberta’s post-secondary education sector, and local and provincial politicians, including Alberta’s minister of Advanced Education, Hon. Rajan Sawhney.
Sawhney said Clark’s background in health research and his decades of experience in academic administration are “excellent assets for Athabasca.”
“His international experience—having immigrated to Canada more than 20 years ago along with his very distinguished career as a writer, consultant, and educator—is ideal for an open university like this,” Sawhney said.
“As he has shown over this past year, he brings to Athabasca an appreciation for the university’s strengths, and an enthusiasm for possibilities beyond the horizon of current practice. I know he will find a wonderful opportunity here.”
AU ‘grounding for growth’
“Today, we look forward, to a new and exciting era of growth and opportunity with a new president at the helm,” said AU board chair Byron Nelson.
Athabasca Mayor Rob Balay highlighted Clark’s commitment to working together with the community and region of Athabasca.
“We are now building a strong and solid foundation, or as [Clark] likes to call it, ‘grounding for growth.’ And I feel very positive and optimistic about our future together,” he said.
The afternoon installation ceremony was followed by an evening celebration at the Athabasca Regional Multiplex fieldhouse. The event was open to the entire community to illustrate the strong and close ties between AU and the local community.
Hundreds of people from the Athabasca region enjoyed music, dancing, snacks, and fun at the event.