Whither UNB?

It will be interesting to see who gets chosen to lead UNB.  I agree with Anthony Knight about the importance of that position and that institution.

However, I continue to be an unapologetic one-trick-pony and I am a little disappointed that Knight didn’t make the direct case that UNB needs to understand its role in the province’s economic development.  He talks about the economic benefit to suppliers (presumably the members of his Chamber) and the value of R&D, but I would like to see UNB ask itself a more fundamental question – specifically, “Why has New Brunswick’s population stagnated and net youth out-migration continued unabated for almost two decades and what could be UNB’s role as a key actor in redressing these challenges (among many others)?”

Certainly, the 21Inc. initiative is interesting as is/was the NextNB initiative.   Professor Frank Collin’s program that puts engineering students in front of real world economic development issues right here in New Brunswick is a good thing.  I’d like to see this thinking extended to virtually all faculties.

It is likely the new Prez will be brought in from outside NB.  I have no knowledge of that but it is likely, IMO.  Therefore, I hope that senior people who have a deep understanding of the broader challenges facing NB and ideas about UNB’s role in changing things will be able to huddle with the new Prez and impress upon her/him early on the need for this focus.

Economic self-sufficiency, prosperity, progress – you choose your label but it won’t happen if it remains just a government document restricted to a few offices in the Centennial Building.  Our major institutions like UNB need to fully understand their role in the future of this province.

21 thoughts on “Whither UNB?

  1. Our future hopes are flawed if we honestly believe that university research will solve our economic challenges.History shows that. depite hundreds of millions that Canada invests universities have had few commercial successes. Understandably so; this is not the main role of universities.

    The primary role of universities is to produce high quality graduates with a solid education. The glamour of large research grants and the comfort of an academic environment has resulted in confused ideas about our universities.

    UNB should select a President who makes the student’s education the primary focus and channels resources accordingly. As these graduates enter the working world, that could have a major positive impact on the economy.

  2. “Why has New Brunswick’s population stagnated and net youth out-migration continued unabated for almost two decades…”

    Oh boy, a UNB post!

    As to your query, is there anything stopping current UNB staff from asking themselves this question and then proceeding to get funding to work on it? I am sure that UNB has done such studies for Bhutan; have they done them for UNB? Good leadership looks for good talent, both current talent and talent that can be recruited. How much talent does UNB have right now? Is it being properly supported and encouraged? How does UNB compare to other unis wrt to grant funds per tenured staff? Let’s start with some transparent information from UNB: faculties should provide information on funding levels of each staff member and a list of their scholarly works. Let’s demand excellence from UNB staff.

    What has prevented UNB from answering this question? Poor leadership, or something else? UNB needs to adopt the ‘mission’ approach that galvanized US land grant unis. Look at the historical records for those organizations and you will see many outreach and development efforts by uni staff to help develop their states. How many UNB staff share this attitude? Damn few, I’d say. That’s a lack of leadership that stretches back many years.

    Answering or trying to answer your question is an exercise might engage the province and be cathartic, but I’d rather spend energy on getting UNB to do what other unis have done – develop innovative technologies that create jobs. Asking UNB to do answer your question, will I’m afraid simply generate work for business faculty – a group that should be disbanded, with the space used to build science and engineering labs.

    Today is budget day in Ottawa. We have already heard announcements re spending on uni infrastructure. If UNB does not get a big chunk to build up science and engineering capacity, then we will know how much UNB and GNB really care about NB’s future.

  3. “History shows that. depite hundreds of millions that Canada invests universities have had few commercial successes”

    That’s wrong.

    Look at major universities in the US and Canada. They are surrounded by research parks filled with tech outfits exploiting university research. University research is an engine that drives inovation. In this world we must have inovation to survive. Industry in Canda has shown that they will not do this themselves.

  4. ” … The University of Alberta has grown to be one of Canada’s foremost research-intensive universities, with external research funding in 2004-05 of more than $415 million… In partnership with industry and government, the University of Alberta plays a pivotal role in advancing the economic prosperity of Edmonton and Alberta.” (from QS Top Universities)

    I quote this because when I was out in Edmonton the U. of A., including the U. of A. hospital, appeared to grow at an amazing rate. In fact, where I lived people were worried about the U. of A. buying up more land to accommodate expansion. I don’t believe this growth was related to oil but to planning, investment and vision.

    So, if my perception is accurate and it has been done elsewhere, why not here? Alberta may be a Conservative province but it is far from conservative when it comes to business/economics. They are aggressive, at least in comparison to Atlantic Canada.

    I believe the same can be said of the University of British Columbia.

  5. There are a lot of issues there, but one problem is once again the media. There are a lot of questions asked above, about faculty, research, etc. Who here knows the answers? ARE there answers? I remember a post about the university and did some research and there was lots going on that apparantly people simply didn’ t know about (at least here).

    We know there is a lot of social science research. We know the engineering school does a lot of nuclear research and there are a number of companies. There is a problem in that we live in a society now that expects everyone to ‘carry their own weight’. As the first poster says, just because David has his own views, doesn’t mean all the institutions of the province need to place that as their focus. Do we expect Irving and McCain to dwell on outmigration? So why UNB?

    Universities today are in limbo, and Canada increasingly sees them as only preparation for the narrow views of industry. It’s no longer about ‘education’, in fact even the public schools under the liberals are being essentially ‘sold out’ to industry ‘partners’.

    But people may know a little more about the research going on at UNB, or potentially going on, if there were some media attention on educational institutions. There is virtually NO interest in talking about the functions of institutions, only occasional ‘news items’ if something happens.

  6. “Do we expect Irving and McCain to dwell on outmigration? So why UNB?”

    Most of the time your arguments are at least well thought out. This time not. Of course, Irving, McCain and UNB need to dwell on out-migration. Their future workforce, students and not to mention customers depend on having people around.

    Project out for me government spending at the rate of three times inflation. Then add in stagnant and even declining population (because of the lack of private sector investment). Then ask yourself in 20 years what will happen to tax rates or government services or the population at large?

    These major institutions would be well advised to take the economic situation in New Brunswick very seriously.

  7. Irving doesn’t care about outmigration. They OWN the media in NB and virtually NEVER talk about it. When there looked like there was a labour shortage, they didn’t talk about outmigration-they took out ads in Alberta to get workers to come back. Irving only needs a minute number of workers, and any it can’t find in NB, it can find internationally. Hell, they’d be happy if the province were EMPTY. Most of their gas goes straight out of the province anyway. I remember Alec Bruce talking about McCain’s program of working with Immigration Canada in order to bring in executives-they don’t get them from NB. If it WAS important then you’d see reporting every day on it in their newspapers, and constant talk about it on their radio stations. As readers well know, they aren’t shy about stating their needs and getting political action on getting them addressed.

    As for Universities, they don’t have to take it seriously either. I’ve mentioned before that the University of Waterloo, ranked number one yet again, is largely an international private school. They not only admit that, they RAVE about it. Meanwhile, fewer ontarians are getting post secondary education than next door in the states. That may change next year because of the economic downturn, but a university can EASILY get students abroad-if it so desires.

    That’s simple reality, but I wasn’t arguing against the general idea. As has been mentioned here, more NBers get a post secondary education per capita than many other provinces. With a lack of private investment that means a greater dependance on the public, which means the public has a greater right to make demands.

    There are two parts to that idea. There is TALKING about outmigration, and there is doing something. For the second, that means creating jobs. That’s tricky. But for TALKING about it, we simply don’t know how often that goes on because the media systematically ignores educational institutions. You can go to pubmed and type in “new brunswick, canada” and see lots of research, some of it fascinating, lots of it important, but it simply never gets mentioned in the media unless a press release is attached.

    But as for research, again about the media. There are several posters here, what about dividing the job between readers. All anybody has to do is start with any university, click on a faculty, a professor, and there is virtually always a link to their publications. People can find which professors are actually doing what David talks about, either in poli sci, or economics, and start talking to them. Start asking economic professors about the issue. Heck, Dave could invite one or two to his video podcast thingy and have a far better ‘show’ than just him rereading his blog. If Charles Leblanc can do ‘off the cuff’ interviews with the mayor, the ombudsman, and MLA’s on Youtube, then imagine what somebody NOT crazy could do.

  8. “All anybody has to do is start with any university, click on a faculty, a professor, and there is virtually always a link to their publications. ”

    A. not so for UNB. UNB’s website appears to be designed to hide information; either that or their web managers are incompetent.
    B. try to find the funding data. NSERC and its sister orgs have all this data but hide it from the tax-paying public.

    “but a university can EASILY get students abroad-if it so desires.”

    UNB does recruit quite a few international students. But that is not the issue. Neither Waterloo or UNB will ever rely on foreign student tuition for more than a fraction of their budgets. Student numbers are not the solution. The problem is we see unis as training schools not as inovation centres. Look south of the border – do states with lots of hi-tech industries see their unis as training schools or as as research and job engines that must work with those industries? In NB we have not yet accepted the essential role of unis in economic growth. It is bloody pointless to produce an ‘educated’ population if the grads must move elsewhere to work. Right now, our unis are subsidizing other provinces by providing them with trained grads. What’t the point of that? We are wasting our investment in universities because we see them as educational organizations rather than research organizations.

    Those doubting the connection between research funding and regional economic growth should troll the economic journals. Back before the discipline of economics became completely corrupted, economists actually did some useful work. You can find research studies as far back as the fifties showing the relationship between uni research investments and regional economic growth. Why this has not sunk in here, I don’t know.

    “either in poli sci, or economics, and start talking to them”

    Complete and utter waste of time; polysci and econ profs have nothing to contribute to the discussion. They are all ideological hacks.

    “the University of Alberta plays a pivotal role in advancing the economic prosperity of Edmonton and Alberta”

    Meanwhile, UNB pisses away tax dollars on a glorified gym.

    The fed budget is now public. Zilch there for NB; everything seems to be in matching funds which means the bulk of the spending will be in ON and AB. Graham’s ‘nicey-nicey’ approach to Harper isn’t paying any dividends. When is this guy going to wake up?

  9. There’s no doubt that UNB has lousy web content, I know several people who have contracted with them and can attest to outright incompetence. However, that’s not my point. My point was if you want to talk about research, then THIS blog is literally the only place it would be happening. Anybody that claims there is NO research being done in NB simply isn’t paying attention. It simply doesn’t get ‘out there’. David really needs more support for this blog, there’s no doubt ONE guy can’t start a video or audio podcast doing a ‘show’ of ANY kind without help, so what I’m saying is that readers should help. I don’t know if that’s the culture of defeat, but at some point fellas, you’ve got to DO something and stop saying every action is a ‘waste of time’.

    Richard may not like them, but there are lots of university profs that are good in their field and can contribute to discussions about outmigration. Usually what most people mean by such derogatory terms is that they simply don’t like their ideology-EVERYBODY has an ideology.

    But as for the usefulness, that’s not even a question. It’s a trade off-people get educated in NB, then go elsewhere, but the elsewhere is paying for 1/3 of the New Brunswick budget. I’m not saying thats GOOD, I’m saying that its ridiculous to talk about not educating people simply because some or all leave.

    And again, the universities ARE feeding into NB industry. THAT is a real problem. Remember when the mills had just started closing and the Resource Minister was talking about how to get MORE students into forestry? Again, that’s Irvings interest, as long as they have workers, they couldn’t care less about outmigration.

    The ‘problem’ though is partly a democratic problem. It doesn’t matter HOW the public ‘sees’ universities, it is simply impossible to change policy at a university. The ONLY way that can be done is through the media, letting people know what is good and bad, and really putting the universities feet to the fire. If everybody sits back and sees any political involvement as a ‘waste of time’, then OF COURSE nothing will change, and really, why SHOULD universities and governments sit on their hands and say “well gee, I guess we should re organize our economy and education because a bunch of guys at a blog are really unhappy”.

  10. By the way, you can just type in NSERC and New Brunswick and you’ll at least get a partial list of some funding. There’s also a magazine called “CampusStarter”, which I’m sure you’ve ALL heard of! They have a lot of university announcements as well. I was especially interested in the ‘partnership’ between JDI and Mount A where a classroom did a ‘case study’ on supply chain management. So there’s your ‘innovation’-universities are now doing work that JDI doesn’t want to do-no doubt that saves them some money.

  11. Interesting posts but a great case in point. I am sure that there are researchers with funding to study outmigration and with some effort we could secure funding for more people to study it.

    However, the simple reality is, people leave for better employment opportunities. If NB had plenty of good quality jobs, we would be studying our in migration problem.

    If we took more action on ED, we’d have results and there would be less need to study our problems.

  12. There is MUCH more to it than that. There ARE jobs in NB, go to the jobs website and have a look. However, there are different types of jobs. As David has frequently pointed out, NB has a large percentage of social science graduates. Richard has a very salient point in that ‘research’ is largely ignored. That’s a systematic problem in canada right through the entire school system-the lack of science. Even within science its very restrictive, science in the public school system is generally designed to weed out as many kids as possible. As I’ve said numerous times at this blog, my wife works in cancer research and even here in southern ontario its virtually impossible to find qualified candidates. Meanwhile, scientists are very much in demand, I know of three who are packing up this month and going to Germany, Belgium, and Austria. They are VERY qualified and know it, so they are heading to where science is actually funded (in another note one researcher friend is also looking at a position at, you guessed it, UNB).

    Also, we can look at provincial policies. As has been pointed out at this blog before, New Brunswick, even though it has one of the highest percentages of government owned land in the country, New Brunswick provides the fewest jobs in forestry per capita in the country. Again, thats a POLITICAL problem, and something that should be in the media. But again, we virtually never see forestry initiatives discussed in the media. I have seen some books on NB forestry at the Wilfrid Laurier library, but its virtually never been in the media.

    So its far from just ‘make more jobs’. Even if it WERE just ‘make more jobs’, thats a complicated subject which is why there needs more interest and study. David makes a good job of bringing up important issues, but again, he can’t do all kinds of research and do everything himself. But again, if you’ve seen Charles Leblanc’s youtube videos’ then you know it doesn’t take much to actually do the content, it does take some time and the will.

  13. “Anybody that claims there is NO research being done in NB simply isn’t paying attention”

    Who has made that claim? With all respect, Mikel, I have over 25 yrs experience in science research; you have zero. I can tell quickly by looking at uni websites or researchers cvs who is doing useful research and who is not. NSERC has the data, but try and find on their website comparative data showing funding per capita by university department or discipline that would allow you to meaningly compare universities. Can’t be done because the unis do not want them to do it. Our tax dollars at work.

    “So there’s your ‘innovation’-”

    Another meaningless post, Mikel. The point is not that there are not good research programs in NB, the point is that UNB does a poorer job than many other unis in Canada. We are underinvested in R&D. At this point, NB cannot afford that.

    “EVERYBODY has an ideology”

    Yes, everyone has an ideology. But in most scientific disciplines you can still do good work without the data being corrupted by your ideology. That’s no longer true in polysci and economics. I don’t give a rat’s ass what someones ideology is; but I do care whether they are being productive in their job. Spouting off opinions in the media or running for political office is fine, but it is not a substitute for doing high-quality peer-reviewed research. Polysci and econ do not measure up in that respect; their journals have largely become repositories for opinion rather than data analysis. That’s why I regard them as hacks. If they find that derogatory, then they can clean up their act.

  14. Mikel, re read the post above. It does not say more jobs. It says good quality jobs. That is jobs that make effective use of skills and education. Jobs that are resonably stable amd pay competitively. Jobs that people are leaving NB to take often at great personal and family sacrifice.

    Create some of these quality jobs in New Brunswick then study your heart out.

  15. Its HOW to get those jobs. There are LOTS of those types of jobs-they are public sector jobs. But that is only half of it, ask a person with a ‘good job’ whether everything else in their life is fine and you’ll get an earful. There’s more to life than jobs, most people already have those.

    But even on that track, again, that states the obvious. Its sort of like David’s claim “get a whole bunch of good multinationals with lots of investment and problem solved”. That’s ‘sort of’ true, but its like saying “win the lottery”.

    And just to add to Richard’s point, I took a few moments and thought I’d start with St.Thomas because its a small school, and when I went to their economics department, they don’t even list their professors, let alone their publications. So again, there should be some media attention on universities, because we know there is SOME good research, but the ones being lazy non productive goofs should have the media spotlight put on them-otherwise, they really have no reason to change.

  16. “they really have no reason to change”

    Exactly. In Canada, we have a severe transparency deficit (vis a vis the US) when it comes to public and para-public agencies. There is no reason we cannot have more access to thus type of information; we are paying the salaries and the grant funds, so why can’t we have the data?

    “Thank you. Now back on topic i.e. economic development.”

    The topic is how UNB can or cannot contribute to development. Seems bloody obvious to me that UNB has no interest in making any meaningful conributions. Its also obvious that pushing UNB to become a centre for inovation will create high quality jobs. UNB is a key (but not the only key) to ED.

  17. Reading this string of posts, I accept that I am alone with my farfetched idea that UNB’s priority and major contribution to New Brunswick’ economy is well educated graduates.

    Since there is agreement on this blog that UNB’s priortity is research and developmenmt, let’s look at our ROI. Last year UNB received $120M from the province and $50 M in research funding (mostly federal). Let’s not complicate things with private funding, capital funds, government monies given to students for tuition etc.

    Are we happy with the economic results from our $170 million annual investment? I am not suggesting we should not be; I just do not know what those results are. Other ED investments report on job created, export revenue etc. Has anyone seen such data? Should we be asking for it since this is a substantial ED investment?

  18. “Last year UNB received $120M from the province and $50 M in research funding ”

    Unfortunately, it is your opinion that holds sway at UNB. Most of the 120 mill goes towards teaching.

    Compare the paltry 50 mill with funding at other major unis across Canada. Then look at the research parks around those with large funding of research and compare to UNB. Again, I repeat, the economics literature going back to the fifties shows a correlation with R&D investments at unis and regional economic growth.

    With respect to ROI, lets use Irving as an example. They have probably spent several hundred thousand at least on plans and research into the new refinery. What’s the return to date? Zero. Should they drop the idea? No, they’re not stupid. The ROI from a major expansion in research activities is something to be measured after decade at least. This is thus not an activity for accountants or short-sighted EDers.

  19. From http://www.unb.ca “UNB founded in 1785”. If my math is correct that would be a little over 22 decades ago. Guess the message is, more time and more money and the results will come. Is it unreasonable to ask how much more money and how much more time?

  20. “Guess the message is, more time and more money and the results will come.”

    No, that should not be the message. UNB has not been under any pressure to perform, nor has GNB been under any pressure to make it perform. Pouring in money without demands for excellence in certain areas would not be advisable. If it was up to me, I would direct UNB to find resources for science/engineering R&D by greatly reducing efforts in other disciplines. Liberal education depts can go; STU and MtA does that. Most of the business faculty, econ faculty, soft science faculties, etc could all be greatly downsized or closed. These latter groups have no utility insofar as I can see; they have all been infected with the postmodern virus and confuse received opinion with fact.

    Again, I would point out that other unis have focused on R&D and gotten results that lead to patents, tech transfer, job creation. Why not UNB?

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