Curious about post-secondary review

Looming changes to post-secondary education could become the most pivotal steps on the province’s path to self-sufficiency and New Brunswickers will begin giving their direction today with the release of a long-awaited discussion paper – Telegraph-Journal article today.

Changes to post-secondary education ‘pivotal’ to ‘self-sufficiency’? I am curious to read this discussion paper. The lead in to it one would think sets an impossibly high level of expectation.

Those who read this blog regularly will know that I remain somewhat skeptical about this process. Not that we don’t need reform and certainly not that we do not need a higher level of education in the workforce (we are already at one of the lowest levels in North America).

But, again, I am just curious as to the linkage between PS and SS.

History has shown that the more university graduates we churn out, the more that leave the province for greener pastures. To put it another way, in terms of raw numbers, we are graduating more post-secondary graduates than the workforce needs. If we crank up the numbers and encourage more NBers to take post-secondary, will we not be giving them more tools to leave the province?

I know that’s a silly argument. Education is too important. But I still think that we need to align industry development strategies with education strategies to try and limit graduate leakage to other provinces. Over the past 30 years or so, the New Brunswick government has spent tens of millions if not several hundred million educating Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia’s workforce. I have pointed out before that – at least until recently – British Columbia had the lowest level of university seats per capita of any province in Canada – and the highest level of university graduates in the workforce of any province in Canada. Why? Because they just imported their university educated workforce – at the expense of other provinces.

The other point I would make is that New Brunswick, despite the rhetoric, has been basically immune to any systemic and bold moves by its government in recent years. Changes to health care have been limited. Changes to economic development have been limited.

Bold would be free university until the age of 21 like in the UK. Bold would be paying for the tuition of immigrants willing to commit to work in our key growth industries for a period of time (sort of like when you go in the military and get educated on the public nickel). Bold would be calling for research levels in NB universities to reach or exceed the national level within 10 years (we are now second last in the country).

My hunch is we are in for a little more deck chair shuffling onboard the Titanic. Enfold St. Thomas into UNB, some will say. Make education more affordable others will say. Restructure the community college system so that the training people need takes place in the communities they reside, others will intone.

In the end, who really thinks we will get bold changes to the post-secondary system that will be ‘vital’ to the province’s self-sufficiency? I hope so, but ‘bold’ has been all but written out of the lexicon of the New Brunswick government in recent years.