Alberta campus plan confusing, needs work, auditor general says

Alberta's financial watchdog says the government's plan to have 26 post-secondary schools work more closely together needs an overhaul.

Also cites financial 'irregularities' at Medicine Hat College of International Education

An programs operated in China by Medicine Hat College was flagged in the latest AG report 2:13

Alberta's financial watchdog says the government's plan to have 26 post-secondary schools work more closely together needs an overhaul.

In his annual report, Auditor General Merwan Saher calls the province's Campus Alberta project confusing. (CBC)

In his annual report, the auditor general says the Campus Alberta project is confusing and has no way to measure its effectiveness.

Merwan Saher says if the problems aren't fixed, the government will not fully achieve its goals for a system that spends $4.8 billion a year in taxpayer money.

His report recommends the department develop a business plan to clearly outline what it wants to achieve, how it will meet its goals, how much it will cost and where the money will come from.

The plan must include a way to measure the performance of Campus Alberta and the government should publicly release results and costs, Saher suggests.

Deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who is also minister of advanced education, was not immediately available to answer questions about the criticisms in the auditor general's report.

But in a release he thanked Saher for his findings.

"We will use the recommendations to guide us as we improve our operations, while being open and accountable to taxpayers," Lukaszuk said.

College's integrity at risk  

The report also cites management problems at the Medicine Hat College of International Education where it found a shocking lack of academic and financial control involving several programs the college operated in China.

The program offers courses at campuses in other countries, including China, that allow foreign students to complete their studies in Medicine Hat.

Saher found the Chinese students passed courses even though they had failed their mid-term and final exams.

The college had no idea who was teaching the courses it offered through the third party schools and, in some cases, only a small fraction of the courses offered met the college's Canadian curriculum.

The auditor general also found serious irregularities in the payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars to a private Chinese company that controlled the schools.

The report said the college's president and board of governors failed to manage or recognize the risks of such a program.

It noted people in the international division claimed more than $325,000 in travel expenses for the last three years without proper documentation.

Saher said the division operated independently and outside the college's management control — a situation that he described as "extraordinary."

"The result at the highest level is that the integrity of the college's academic credentials have been put at risk and in a nutshell board oversight of the division failed."

Last month, the board of governors of Medicine Hat College announced that Ralph Weeks was stepping down as president. No reason was given.

With files from CBC's Charles Rusnell