Post secondary commission redux

There’s a considerable amount of buzz surrounding the Commission on Post Secondary education in New Brunswick. Their report likely won’t be out until later in the Fall, but I have talked with a few folks with the education sector and here are some things I am hearing:

1. One or more of the smaller English universities will be merged into UNB from an admin perspective (STU, MTA or UNBSJ). This is a cost cutting measure.

I severely doubt this will every happen. The Premier, Greg Byrne and Kelly Lamrock are graduates of STU. You think they are going to let it be swallowed up by UNB? Mount Allison has some very heavy hitters as graduates that would not be happy – and plus I hear they would rather ‘go it alone’ than be merged. And as for UNBSJ, how many SJ reps are their sitting around the Cabinet table these days? Enough to veto that.

2. The community college system will become more autonomous allowing local schools to offer whatever training they deem necessary to serve the local market.

This is very problematic from a political perspective but changes are likely needed. The way the system is now, if you want to take a specific course you have to go in the province where that course is offered – Woodstock, SJ, Bathurst, etc. The only problem is that a large part of the target market for community college training is not mobile (for example a married man wants to take a course that is only offered in Edmundston but his wife works in Moncton). So, what is happening is that Francophones are enrolling at the English language NBCC in Moncton so they don’t have to move to another city to get the same course in French. That is just one example.

Politically, to close smaller city community colleges (this would likely be the impact of allowing all courses to be offered in the large southern cities) would be extremely problematic.

3. More integration between the NBCCs and the universities. For example, better credit transfers and more coordination.

Several education stakeholders have told me that this makes sense. Apparently, British Columbia is a leader in this area.

But I want to remind you of a few comments that were made when this thing was put in place:

From a January CBC report:

New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham is planning a major overhaul of the province’s post-secondary education system, and has appointed a commission to travel the province and make suggestions by fall 2007.

“There has to be more than just a tweaking,” Graham said. “We recognize that for our universities and community colleges to succeed, there’s going to have to be some transformational changes brought forward to allow us to be competitive.”

“I’d like to hear from the basic New Brunswickers, who say, ‘you know, this is important to me, I want my son or daughter or grandson or daughter to have a future in this province. And the only way they’re gonna have a future in this province is if we have a robust economy, and the only way we’re gonna have a robust economy is if we have a literate workforce, so this is important to me, so you guys better make some good recommendations,'” Rick Miner, president of Seneca College and head of the commission said.

Miner says New Brunswick has no choice but to overhaul its system if it wants its economy to survive. Within three years, he says, 90 per cent of jobs in the province will require post-secondary education.

Now, you can’t accuse the Liberals of using muted language. Everything is talked about in the context of ‘massive change’ required. Graham wants ‘transformational’ change to the post-secondary system. Politically, cutting too much or merging is likely not going to happen so what is ‘transformational’?

Let’s revisit my position:

1. Between 20% to 40% of all university graduates from NB schools leave the province for work every year (depending on the survey you look at).

2. Out-migrants are historically much higher educated than people that stay in New Brunswick (lately that is changing because of the blue collar out-migration to Alberta).

3. Both the NBCC and the universities are graduating hundreds of folks each year for which there is almost no chance of a job in their field in New Brunswick. I have seen graduate follow surveys for both universities and colleges that showed the #1 reason why graduates took a job out of the province was a lack of opportunity in New Brunswick.

4. Despite high tuition, NBCC and university education is highly subsidized by taxpayers so every graduate that leaves New Brunswick takes thousands – maybe as much as 20k or more of public subsidization with them.

5. Until recently, British Columbia had the highest education levels in the population and the lowest level of university students (they have recently added a large number of seats, I am told). That is because the university graduate pool in Canada is highly mobile. Biz grads end up in B.C., IT grads in Waterloo, nurses in Texas.

So my position on this at the macro level is simple:

Educational opportunities need to be aligned with workforce needs in New Brunswick. Period. No more biology if there are no jobs for biologists. No more aircraft maintenance if all the grads are going off to Montreal or Halifax. No more, you get the picture.

The way you do this is much more alignment between the economic development plan and the education plan.

The post-secondary educational system should continue to foster mobility between the communities. I don’t think we need to have a college and university in every town offering a full suite of programming. So we should be more deliberate about this. However, we also need to be very realistic. For example, anglophones in Moncton now have among the lowest – if not the lowest – rates of university graduates in all of Canada. So to make the point that Moncton kids should go to UNB and move back or whatever – that doesn’t seem to be working.

And this is problematic on a number of fronts. The lack of university education among Anglos in Moncton is dragging down average incomes (still well below SJ and Freddy) and ultimately will be a lid on growth.

However, the good news is that Moncton is starting to attract Anglo university educated folks from across Canada. I know people from Calgary, Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver that have brought their diplomas with them.

To take a ‘suck it up, Moncton’ attitude towards this problem wouldn’t be wise. If Moncton’s Anglo population was as educated as Freddy Beaches Anglo population, New Brunswick’s university educated rate would be close to the national average. Now, it is second from the bottom. I’m not going to say “as goes Moncton, so goes New Brunswick” but Greater Moncton is the largest population base in New Brunswick – so you figure it out.

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0 Responses to Post secondary commission redux

  1. NB taxpayer says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your position, David. As I see it, education reform will have no bearing on increased levels of literacy or higher levels of employable skills amongst those still here since most of the educated are chosing the leave this province anyway. IMHO, the market is dictating that trend, plain and simple. If we can’t keep the diamonds, then we will always end up with the rough. That is why the numbers at Stats Can show an increase in illiteracy rates in our province, not because the education system is teetering on the brink of disaster; though it could use a bit of tweaking. Maybe look to Ireland for some good examples?

    Moreover, the weight of this trend is calamitous to the economy since they [our educated and skilled youth] don’t stick around to add to the tax base of this province and, in turn, the tax burden ends up being shifted on people like you and I since we pay for the government to subsidize these individuals so that they can leave for greener pastures.

    One thing that I was taught by one of my favorite university sociology teachers was that there are winners and losers in every capitalistic society. Unfortunately, for NBers, many of our winners are no longer here which is why the legislature is lacking leadership and our workforce has no skills. I always thought that if Moncton had 6-7 huge 30-40 story office buildings in the downtown full of university grads working at average to above average jobs, then the days of have-not would be over. Merging or adding a piece onto U de M, Mount Allison or UNB will do nothing to curb the ugly trends that currently exist. We need stronger private industry, not new education schemes.

  2. Anonymous says:

    That’s a problem for a very obvious reason, and that’s that to large measure thats how the educational system works.

    The reason it is like that is because INDUSTRY likes to keep costs low, and wages are only kept low if there is a lot of supply.

    Remember your blog of a year ago that had the Minister of Education talking about how dedicated they were to getting students into forestry?

    Take the example of animation. There are very few jobs in that, its hardly an industry, so by that logic, we shouldn’t even see an animation school in miramichi because its hardly any jobs.

    If what you are suggesting is the case, schools should only be teacing how to be a cashier or other jobs in the service industry. Not very smart.

  3. Anonymous says:

    By that reasoning, New Brunswick shouldn’t have an animation school in the miramichi because hardly anybody works in that industry. By that reasoning, the last Education Minister was correct to be talking getting more kids into forestry.

    It’s a lot more complex than that. By that reasoning the school system would be designed to teach people how to work in service industry jobs. Is that really what is desirable?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hello

    My girlfriend already has a University degree in Chemistry and she is doing a master degree in Moncton University/Dalhousie right now. I also have a University degree in Human ressources/Insdutrial relationship.

    We come here to increase our english skill level from Quebec.

    At this point, Moncton has a lot to offer, better sophistication (retail)than Saint John, the city is more vibrant than any other city in that province as well as has better airport. I am aware that Moncton very capitalises by his central location.

    However, Saint John already has a real urban city frame, with a real focus on how the uptown could become a real gateway. For increase, either the ambitious Hardman group project and Cruisehip building to confirm this trend. Moreover, the new energy projects could reverse the demographic problem in port city. Moncton seem to be the main destination for the citizens within the province but a the end of the day wheter Saint john focusing, by all energy projects on the table, to attract citizens from outside New-Brunswick, it could result by a profit over hub city.

    In the case both projects, petroleum refinery as well as Nuclear power station move forward, about 2000 highly paying job could be added to the city workforce base by 2017 without counting generation of extra/indirect jobs which could be created along with.

    I really think Saint John is still the race

    I don`t speak english properly, i`m in the leaning process.

    Erick

  5. David Campbell says:

    A couple of points:

    1. Just to clarify, IMHO, where there are public funds involved the universities should be trying to provide the educated workforce needed by New Brunswick industry. I realize there will always be leakage but 20%-40% is a serious problem.

    2. Folks doing the planning and strategy for Greater Moncton should be concerned about the education level among Anglophones. Period. There are potentially a number of ways to address this (more schools, more immigration, more in-migration) but ignoring it won’t make it go away. And as I said, there are encouraging signs that educated anglos are moving here.

    3. To Erick’s point, I love Saint John. Always have. Lived there for a while. It is definitely coming out of a bit of an economic low in the 1990s but there are a lot of good things happening in the port city. For New Brunswick to become ‘self-sufficient’ in 20+ years, Saint John will have to reassert itself as a growing and dynamic economic engine – and it looks like she will. Moncton could learn a few things from SJ – and certainly vice versa. It’s my opinion that there is a fair amount of sharing and cooperation between Moncton and SJ these days – not sure about Freddy Beach.