Filling classrooms again

As you know, I have been quite critical of the university system in New Brunswick -particularly as it relates to their role in economic development. With upwards of 40% or more of the graduates leaving New Brunswick each year, I have said that we are just subsidizing Ontario and Alberta’s workforce. Pouring more government money in without alignment with economic development strategies would, for the most part, just increase the public’s expense without any real economic benefit.

In fact, you could possibly argue that closing down all the universities might be the best economic move. I am obviously kidding on this point – but British Columbia has had the least amount of university students per capita in all of Canada yet they have the highest percentage of university graduates in their workforce. Nova Scotia has the highest percentage of university students per capita but is well under provinces such as BC for university graduates in the workforce.

So, if you had no or very little university activity in New Brunswick you would still likely be able to pull graduates from other provinces to work here in the jobs that require university education (if the BC and Ontario examples hold).

But that’s a moot point. Nobody, not even me, is calling for the elimination of universities in New Brunswick.

In fact, I am pushing for a far greater role for universities in the province’s economic development. That’s why I am concerned about the comments of university presidents in the T&T article today:

In an editorial board meeting with the Telegraph-Journal Wednesday, McLaughlin said post-secondary education in the province needs to undergo dramatic change, becoming “smaller, better and different.”

Robert Campbell, the newly installed president of Mount Allison University, said universities need to be prepared for the demographic challenge.”There really is a very good chance there will be less (students enrolled) in five years and 10 years than now,” said Campbell.

Here are a few of my comments for the gregarious McLaughlin and the welcome-to-NB Campbell:

1. New Brunswick has the second lowest rate of university graduates among the adult population in all of North America. Sure there are less and less kids but you should be targeting more and more adults so we can get our workforce at least up to the national average in education levels. We are also woeful on Masters and Doctorate level degrees.

2. New Brunswick, last time I checked, was among the lowest provinces in Canada for international students in our universities. Shouldn’t we get at least up to the national average before we start proclaiming that New Brunswick’s university population must decline?

3. UNB is setting up campuses and joint ventures in a number of countries around the world. I hope this strategy supports bringing students and potential immgrants to New Brunswick.

4. Moncton, which has the second largest group of English speaking high school graduates in New Brunswick, has no real English language university education to speak of. Now to my friends at ABU, don’t freak out. You are a provincial and beyond university. Outside of theological and teacher education, you don’t really cater to Moncton. Mount Allison, how many of your students actually come from Greater Moncton? The reality is there is significant leakage of English speaking Monctonian high school grads to Dalhousie, McGill and other universities beyond the borders of New Brunswick. If a student has to relocate to Fredericton, they will also consider out of province. That’s a fact. UNB should have a campus in Moncton. This is not about creating more infrastructure and less coordination. For all I care you can have one friggin’ university for the whole province but like just about every US state, you can strategically place campuses around the province and Moncton should be the site for one (The University of California has campuses in Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Merced, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz). Cripes, even UdeM has three campuses in the principal Francophone regions of New Brunswick. There are 110,000 Anglophones within 30 minutes of Moncton – figure it out.

I have talked before and I’ll post again about where I think universities fit in the economic development landscape. They play a key role. The above post is just about bums-in-seats.