Athabasca University 411: Where to find the best cheap lunch and more

An Athabasca University insider’s perspective on campus life

Barbara Lehtiniemi
Athabasca University Student

Athabasca University (Photograph by Amber Bracken)

Athabasca University Student

Unofficial school motto:

Athabasca Athabasca University Student Barb Lehtiniemi.‘Study naked!’

Best place for a nap:

Living room sofa

Best cheap lunch:

My kitchen (or Mom’s kitchen, when open)

Best hangover breakfast:

Breakfast sandwich from any drive-through on the way to work

Favourite watering hole:

The Atlantic Pub & Eatery, Alexandria, Ont., roughly 3,600 km closer to home than Athabasca

Perks of living in this town:

My campus is wherever I am

Best place to study:

Public libraries, cafés, the lunchroom at work

Best campus event:

Convocation—for many students, it’s the first time they’ll set foot on campus

Best giveaway:

The student union regularly has free stuff on their website and periodically holds draws for big-ticket items such as tablets

Best source of news:

The Voice Magazine, a weekly online mag published by the student union

Best electives:

Students rave about Goddess Mythology, Women’s Spirituality and Ecofeminism

University Insider Report: Barbara Lehtiniemi, 51, English and History

Being an Athabasca student is both isolating and exhilarating. The university (AU) has a compact campus on the outskirts of Athabasca, but, like most AU students, I have never seen it. Of the nearly 40,000 of us registered as students, few attend classes in person; most take courses using textbooks, online learning resources and teaching support. Me, I live in rural North Glengarry, Ont., 100 km east of Ottawa.

PROFILE: Athabasca University | Athabasca, Alta. | Founded 1970

Offsetting the solitude of studying at home is great flexibility. Instead of arranging my life around school, I arrange my classes around life. Most independent-study AU courses can be started in any month. Students decide when to review course material, submit assignments and write exams, typically within six months. The flip side of flexibility is responsibility. AU students learn to develop time-management and self-motivation skills—including how to avoid procrastination. Studying online is especially appealing for students with financial challenges or those like me who live in remote areas. I have no housing or commuting expenses, and budgeting is easier because tuition prices include textbook fees. I work freelance and love to travel, and Athabasca University comes to me wherever I am via mail and computer.

Athabasca is an open university and admits students regardless of their educational background. Although some advanced courses and programs have prerequisites, the general admittance requirement is that students are at least 16.

AU only receives provincial funding for Alberta students—less than half of the total enrolled. This is a big factor in the school’s vulnerable financial position. A task force on sustainability assembled by president Peter MacKinnon noted in its June 2015 report that the school would be unable to pay its debt by the next year, but unions and local government have lobbied the provincial government to bail it out, as the university is the town’s largest employer. I’m not too worried; I figure the government will come to the rescue, even if it means a merger with another Alberta institution. Either way, I’ll still get my degree.


Sports-minded business students might find their interest piqued by the Business of Hockey M.B.A., launched in early 2015. Appropriate for an online university, AU launched its online executive M.B.A. program back in 1994.

Local Vibe

With students across Canada and in 87 other countries, we connect regularly through social media or course discussion boards. Because AU attracts a diverse demographic, students benefit from rubbing virtual shoulders with people of all ages, locations and cultures.

The Skinny

The AU Student Union ( provides a free mobile app for connecting with others, organizing studies and finding out about services.

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