Post secondary commission thoughts

My comments on the new Post Secondary Commission recommendations.

What I got right:

Mount Allison and St. Thomas – untouched – in fact the report calls for more funding for St. Thomas.

A pile of new dough recommended for the universities.

Community college counts towards Year 1 and in some cases Year 2 of university.

Comprehensive international student recruitment strategy.

What I got wrong:

Turning UNBSJ and the Northern campuses of UdeM merged with local community colleges into ‘polytechnics’. Remember this is a recommendation – it will take real hutzpa to reduce the mandate and influence of UNB Fred or UdeM.

What I didn’t mention but makes sense:

The remaining communities colleges split off from direct government administration and merged. Many of the NBCC folks were calling for this.

Concluding thoughts:

This is actually much more tame that some were predicting. Some were saying STU would be merged. The community college system would be spun out and merged (to the detriment of the North).

Essentially, this is actually a very politically correct report (almost). STU/MTA not touched. The North protected and some would say enhanced (UdeM loses control). Saint John gets its independence (what many have wanted there for years) – although is a polytechnic a university? It calls for piles of new dough for the system and as act of kindness to UNB/UdeM for losing 30% of their students, they get more graduate studies, research and more funding for distance education.

All in all, it seems they went out of their way to avoid controversial.

The real issue. Will it help?

I have said all along that the problem with the system is more tied to misalignment between what we are providing in terms of education and what the local economy needs. Up to 40% of university graduates leave the province (depending on what survey you look at) and the colleges have actually held job fairs here for companies in Montreal. A very good chunk of our community college graduates leave the province as well.

Will this new system assure more alignment between education offered and local requirements? Maybe.

As for the lack of R&D here – that does seem to be correlated to the lack of critical mass (no large university) – and that is not fixed in this report.

As for the so-called decline in students, again, that is as much tied to out-migration as to demographic shifts (Alberta universities are bursting at the seems). More coordination of international student recruitment (and hopefully retention after graduation) is a good idea.

More money for post secondary education? If it means more money to train Alberta’s workforce, then no. Not on your life. I am tired of being the labour market incubator for Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. While a person is a drain on society (aged 1 through university), they live in New Brunswick. Then, the second they are tax producers, they are go to Alberta. And then the Albertans grumble they are sending all this Equalization to New Brunswick.

That money is right now being used to incubate your friggin’ labour market.

So, if we can keep these graduates here and keep them paying taxes here and if the community colleges can stop holding job fairs for Ubisoft in Montreal because we have attracted Ubisoft here, then things will be in alignment.

So, for me the bottom line is that post secondary education reform was really not the main issue. The main issue is a solid plan for economic development. The kind of economic development that will keep our graduates here and, in fact, attract more students because of the strong in-migration of people for the jobs.

If we keep losing people and creating disporportionately high non-university education requiring jobs (don’t you sneer at this, look at the last 25 company expansion press releases from the government and tell me how many of them require university), all the tweaking of the post secondary system in the world won’t matter.

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0 Responses to Post secondary commission thoughts

  1. Kit says:

    Was STU ever seriously under any threat of amalgamation with three of the top Liberals being alumni?

    But, it would have helped sort out the undergrad problem at UNB, which, as an institution, has forgotten that this is its bread and butter. Offer good courses and they will come… Research and business partnerships come after.

  2. mikel says:

    Keep in mind ‘grumbling’ is irrelevant, the reality is that equalization DOES exist, and as you’ve pointed out so many times before, you can’t actually complain because as you’ve said, NB has benefitted greatly with massive public sector hirings, thanks in part to federal dough.

    So, education is very different from economic development. If YOUR claim is that ‘education be tied to what the market needs’ then that means simply shutting them all down and doing nothing but having co-op programs for civil service jobs and for the construction industry. The managers at the oil refinery managed to do the blue collar jobs fairly easily with no extra training so there’s not much there.

    So to NOT invest in post secondary education just because people leave seems a little misguided, even personal. To only train for the market seems, well, crazy.

    What is REALLY missing from the report is expectations. IF STU gets more money, then there should be SOME kind of stipulations on what should be done with it. However, the fact that STU doesn’t offer PHD or even graduate programs in most subjects is a complete joke. I know professors who were trying to do this over a decade and a half ago. Graduate programs are where the money is, in the arts its about the ONLY place the money is.

    But there should be some oversight. Alumni programs are really half assed at STU and donations aren’t nearly at the levels of other schools (even per capita), although that has a lot to do with maybe the fields they offer don’t pay as much.

    As an alumnae myself though, there was no goddam way I was giving money to what they were asking for at the time-new sports fields and a gym and money for their sports team. STU always struck me as being more worried about there goddam hockey team than they were worried about academics.

    I assume things have changed, but SOME universities are known to change at the speed of a tortoise. I had a hell of time challenging a professors marking scheme. Seriously, this professor gave marks based on ‘neatness’. Seriously, each week the girl with the highest marks got raves because ‘look how neat her handwriting is’. I”m serious about this, so when some programs at some schools are called a joke, its not always snobbery.

    Universities have serious internal issues, and if they want public money (which they deserve), then there should be some accountability. I have numerous horror stories about UNB.

    Local control isn’t ALWAYS a good thing, though knowing something about administration I can understand the desire for it. But I agree that most of the ‘changes’ are pretty slight, I would agree on the need for big changes, but think they are in HOW universities function rather than what you mention. There’s no doubt they need more money…but for what? The one thing you don’t mention is that universities primarily have a local pool or students. With some of the highest tuition rates in the country, tons of people in the maritimes (and elsewhere) simply can’t AFFORD university.

    But I know what benefits post secondary training offers. There are three different groups now trying to get free tuition, at least to specific groups. How well this rebate works will be interesting to see. I seriously dislike people from OUR generation, who got away with dirt cheap tuition griping at paying for the next generations education.

    Finally, once again you don’t need a ‘large’ university for R&D. In fact thats the OPPOSITE of what you need (usually). I hate continually bringing it up, but the Perimeter Institute gets more than all the universities put together. It consists of ONE building, one UGLY building I might add. And a building that is half the size (if that) of Fredericton High School, not much bigger than a typical elementary school.

    What is important is what they study. The lack of sciences is New Brunswicks chief problem, and a lack of investment at scientific education. The perimeter institute sponsors talks that I can go to just about every week. But even Canada itself is falling far short in the sciences, partly due to bad educational models, but also funding and a somewhat elitist view of science. The company my wife works for almost NEVER hires within Canada simply because nobody can be found with that level of expertise.

    I thought I’d never be able to return to New Brunswick, but if Moncton is taking off like it sounds, there may be ‘some’ hope yet. Although whether there is farmland and useful crown land around there like there is in northern ontario will be the outstanding question. Sorry thats so long.

  3. David Campbell says:


    Just to be sure I understand your position. You think that New Brunswick should consider to spend tens of millions educating people that we know will be using that education in Ontario or Alberta or British Columbia? You think that education is distinct from the needs of the local economy? That’s nuts. I don’t think you should put the system is hair shirt and say you can’t teach any program where there isn’t a 100% chance the graduates will work in New Brunswick. You know my position on this. I think the government should say we are going to focus o sector x and sector y as growth sectors for the province. Now, university system, what diploma, degree, graduate studies and research programs would be needed? That is done all over the world and should be done here.

  4. mikel says:

    That IS my position, and you’ve never actually shown that, that is your personal belief and I respect that, I’m just making sure all the cards are on the table for anybody else reading.

    Your position is that NB can’t count on federal dollars forever, and thats fair enough, the self sufficiency agenda shows that the government agrees at least in principle if not in practise.

    Even the OECD says that if Canada doesn’t start investing in R&D at a much higher level then we’re screwed.

    So let’s look at some examples, namely the cancer research centre. Since there are no jobs in that field, your suggestion is that there should be no education tied to it. THAT is what is crazy. The Perimeter Institute does theoretical physics. That’s it. Thats all. The research institute that got more money than ALL the federally funded research centres in NB combined does NO practical R&D.

    The idea no doubt is that someday something will come of it, but in theoretical physics thats no guarantee. What did that funding pay for? Well, part of it brought several new researchers, most from the US.

    Second on the list for federal funding-that doesn’t even include provincial and local, is the Research Institute for Quantum Computing. Now, there is MORE of a chance that something will come from there, but once again it is highly theoretical.

    By your thinking NONE of these would be funded, but they are funded heavily by the feds. What the difference is, is that these are LOCAL initiatives. The billionaires at RIM coughed up big bucks and so then so did the local government as well as the provincial.

    The feds have money, LOTS of money, but first there has to be somewhere for them to go. But they certainly aren’t going to shovel tons of cash into the fields you say industry wants. The province is still heavily into investing in forestry and the only growth fields that I’ve seen are construction.

    Even your own example shows you don’t believe what you say. Since there is very few animation companies, why spend on animation? The reason is to BUILD the industries that don’t exist. I still think the simplest and most economical way to build an animation industry AND a cultural industry isn’t shovelling money into companies, but simply having a provincial or at least regional television station.

    The problem, of course, is knowing what the industries of tomorrow will be. Again, we are talking about education here, NOT economic development. I understand your logo, but life and society is FAR more than what a person does for a job. If we followed that line of thinking, shutting down every arts faculty would be the number one priority.

    Its not educations job to ‘put all the eggs in one basket’. Here in Waterloo there are two universities and one bigass community college. The universities have preferential subjects they are known for, but that doesn’t mean others are ignored. Currently the University of Waterloo is doing the exact opposite of what you suggest and opening up a ‘health science center’, in other words working on the one area that it doesn’t have, which is a medical school.

    As well as those science research center, a big publicly funded research center that is brand new here is CIGI, the Canadian Institute for International Governance. They get huge subsidies, but once again, all it is is a glamorized poli sci department.

    So picking area may be OK for economic development (but I’d debate that as well), but in education its far from good policy, at least thats what the evidence indicates. Tying everything to current industries means sticking with the status quo, which is somewhat ironic.

    And the cancer guys in Moncton have just proven me right. Simply by getting more politically active and setting up a special fund, private sector investment has come pouring in. I don’t know if that maybe doesn’t fit into line with ‘foreign direct investment’, but investment is investment and I doubt those guys in Moncton are looking any gift horses in the mouth.

    That industry is just up and coming, it barely exists, but looking at other parts of the country shows that a LOT can come of it, and in a small province that makes an even bigger difference than in a place like ontario. Six new researchers here doesn’t even get you a mention in the paper, there it was front page news. Imagine if TWENTY could be funded. That’s already started, private money is coming in, the province is putting money in, and the feds will be next, although I’m sure they already get some grants from National Science.

    But since there isn’t enough training in the area, most of the new researchers don’t come from NB, although a few of them are Nbers being brought back. Thats good as well, but does nothing for the unemployment rate in NB. IF such an industry can be fostered, the day may come when New Brunswickers are taking science and looking forward to actually being able to work in science. Or animation, or ‘backoffices’, or whatever.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Wow, I’m beginning to lose any hope for focus or change.

    NB has to learn that we cannot spread our selves so thin and try to have full service universities, hospitals and research centers in every corner of the province…for cripes sake we are 729,000 people and shrinking, we need to act like our size. Next thing there will be jealous calls for cancer centers in Saint John, Fredericton, Edmundston, and Bathurst diluting any hope for Moncton to excel.

    We have put millions into reserach in the past 5-7 years. Over $100M at the NRC IT center, over $40M per year into UNB research alone, $10’s of million into the cancer center etc.

    There will be successes and failures with all these commitments but one thing for sure, on their own, they will not transition NB from a have not to a have province.

    It appears some people on this blog have a phobia about free enterprise but the facts are, we need industry to succeed for our economy to succeed. An artificial world of government funding may be comfortable but not sustainable (at least as long as we choose democracy).

    Ontario has a solid economy propelled by millions of dollars of investment, government policy, trade agreements, transportation subsidies, etc for the automotive indusry. Similarly, Quebec has developed a thriving aerospace sector. These provinces focused,obtained government support and ignored the temptation to force autoplants and aircraft manufacturers to locate where they would not be economically successful. But guess what, suppliers to these plants come from all corners of the respective provinces.

    NB needs to focus and develop such economic drivers. Government funding and incentives should be a temporary catayst to propel a near-term focused strategy, not a means of long term survival. We must avoid diluting down the effort by duplicating efforts to passify geographic belly aching.

    Yes we need research investments but we sure as hell better support growth of our industry. The answer is not to throw mud at the Irvings,McCains and Ganongs; we need to encourage about 10 more such powerhouses to emerge from our economy and complete for NB’s resources.

    My vote will be for the government willing to invest $100M to make NB a leader in a logical sector (the identification of such sectors should be where our economic research is focused but energy may be a good one). As Ontario and Quebec learned, carefully managed, this money is very effective in the hands of industry not academics, not goverment.

    To take our economy to the next level we need to invest in hybrid car plants in Sussex rather than a law schools in Cape Pele.

  6. mikel says:

    Again, we are talking about education here, NOT economic development. IF NB could get a hybrid car plant in Sackville that would be absolutely fantabulous. That’s a separate issue.

    The fact is that as far as education goes, just look at a map. Notice anything? Now put a pin on each educational institution? Notice anything now?

    The main reason that the population of the north has dwindled is that after high school students HAVE to leave.

    But again, that doesn’t mean huge spending, in fact, like I said, if programs were offered completely online people wouldn’t have to leave home at all. But no surprise, many areas of the province still have horribly expensive high speed internet, which is a requirement.

    Like David says in the above about financial investments, the same is true in education. We KNOW that the chances of a person getting a university education are eight times higher if they can do so from home. Tuition is already so high that most people can’t afford that AND accomodations.

    But a program to help subsidized somebody’s high speed internet and having all programs online solves the problem. The law school idea was somebody else’s, however, its a neat idea, and takes hardly any resources. At UNB the faculty pretty much exists in ONE building.

    And it doesn’t have to be a NEW university, just a local facility which provides access for the local population. Plus, of course, IF the physical buildings are there, then people have to go there, which builds the population.

    As David mentions, New Brunswick does next to no advertising nationally or internationally. So combine the two and you have an ‘industry’ that serves to bring a larger population to disenfranchised areas.

    And that’s not even just based on economics. I wouldn’t bother with New Brunswick if these were just problems of economics-all the people I know there are now retired, so the economy is of little interest. But nationally these are questions of social justice and basic fairness.

    You are off the mark when you talk about all those industries above and think they are machinations of ‘the market’. Bullshit. They are ALL heavily tied to government spending. Aerospace is literally propped up by the feds, and as we’ve seen, the government has gone out of its way to help Toyota build more plants. It would be WAY cheaper for Toyota to go to Mexico.

    Plus, all those industries are heavily reliant on universities for engineers and technicians. As far as I know, you cant learn aeronautics at community college. That’s the importance of post secondary university.

    The problem HERE is that whenever somebody says ‘invest in education’, then all the clamour comes up that that is ‘government’ and “we need more industry”. Well, NB’s taxes are still among the lowest in the country, and North America. Absolutely nothing is preventing ‘the market’ from coming to the province. Interesting that then the hue and cry suddenly becomes “the government has to do more”, right after the complaints that its doing too much.