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.