One of the key challenges facing Greater Moncton over the next decade and beyond will be the supply of labour for the growing labour market. Urban unemployment in the community is already one of the lowest in Canada and without some new sources of labour, economic growth will undoubtedly falter. The migration of Francophones from Northern New Brunswick will continue but that is a limited supply. There is talk of attracting more immigrants but no concrete strategies have been put in place.
I believe that we are losing a highly valuable source of labour every year with the new crop of graduates from our English language high schools. Well over 90% of the high school graduates that go on to university leave Greater Moncton to study in other communities – in Nova Scotia, Ontario and beyond. It is a well documented fact that once these kids leave, the vast majority never come back. It is also a fact that a local university is a powerful supply of young talent for the local workforce. Just look at the Universite de Moncton. That institution is one of the most important economic development drivers in our community. It has churned out hundreds of new graduates each year – many of which stay and build their careers in the Greater Moncton region. Look at most of the top young talent in our community. The majority of them are UdeM graduates.
However, UdeM caters to only about 1/3 of the potential university students from this region in any given year. That means that 2/3 are leaving the community. I am not overlooking Atlantic Baptist University or Mount Allison. It’s just that ABU has a very limited student enrolment and a majority of their students are not from Moncton. As for Mount A, something like 60% of the students are from outside New Brunswick and of the remaining 40%, only a very small percentage are from Moncton. In addition, MTA’s campus is far enough from the community that we receive very little benefit from the student population. Many MTA students that I talk with tell me they rarely visit Moncton at all and don’t really consider it an option for their career development. UdeM’s new program to accept English language, French Immersion kids is a welcome step – but again, this is very limited – 25 in the first year.
The reality is that Greater Moncton should be a captive market for universities in other communities that are facing declining enrolments. There are literally hundreds of potential students right here in Greater Moncton every year and the potential pool is growing not declining as in some other communities. It’s time for UNB, Mount Allison or some other university to set up a campus in Moncton that could accept hundreds of new students each year. This would give our English language high school graduates a local market option for their university education and provide a better chance that many of them would stay right here in Greater Moncton.
The stakes are high. For the first time in the 2001 Census, the percentage of Francophones with university education in Greater Moncton was higher than the Anglophone population. And with that comes higher average incomes and a higher standard of living. The greatest niche that this community has is our bilingual nature. It is an advantage that very few cities in Canada can claim. We must nurture it. We must enhance it. We must work towards the day when people speak French or English ubiquitously. However, we must not do this by exporting our English kids. If we do that, then everyone loses.