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LETTER: Free tuition or post-secondary education reform?

This spring 10,000 students are slated to receive undergraduate or graduate university degrees across Nova Scotia. - File

Although I applaud Matt Barter’s endeavor to draw attention to the financing of post-secondary education, I suggest that the critical issue at hand is not the fee structure (although I agree that it does merit reform) but the entire post-secondary system itself that desperately needs a revamp if NL is to truly engage with the knowledge economy.

In 2014, Dr. Rick Miner published a paper on the impending skills mismatch in Canada entitled “People Without Jobs, Jobs without People.”

The following suggestions borrow liberally from that excellent document, which I believe all of our politicians and civil servants would do well read as we enter a rapidly changing labour market.

We continue to use tax dollars to train people for jobs for which there are a glut of applicants, are rapidly disappearing, or are shape-shifting radically to the extent that employers are forced to retrain new employees with recent credentials.

It is generally agreed that in Canada our post-secondary education systems are increasingly less responsive to the significant employment and economic shifts currently occurring locally and globally.

Our economy is changing rapidly, resulting in the creation of many new and previously unknown jobs resulting from such developments as AI, cloud computing, robotics, clean(er) energy, etc. where radically different training will be required for Canada and N.L. to be competitive.

As a result, we need post-secondary systems that are more flexible, more responsive, less hierarchical, more affordable, more student-centered and which develop leaders and not followers.

To achieve these ends the Miner report proposed a number of changes, the following are a selection that I suggest are of particular relevance to N.L.:

• A certain percentage of all educationally related post-secondary program funding should be dedicated to developing curriculum and training programs for emerging jobs.

• University/college programs should be integrated with the applied portion of the program occurring at the end of the educational/training experience. Such programs could be structured in a three-year university plus one-year college/polytechnic arrangement.

• More standalone, short, transitional programs should be developed to quickly align employees with employment opportunities.

• Apprenticeship should be extensively reformed with a particular focus on enrolment growth, improved completion rates and better journey person-apprentice ratios.

• Funding to programs that have little direct employment opportunities should be restricted unless pathways have been developed that would allow graduates to easily transition into more career-focused opportunities.

• Move toward more competence-based educational and training programs.

• Shorten the interval between applied learning and employment.

• Shift the balance between the research and teaching functions in universities; the present emphasis is clearly on research, which is important, but overshadows the important role of teaching.

This is not a call to alter the whole system but to suggest that our educational and training systems should be more responsive to shifts in the job market and the types of training that will be needed.

There is still plenty of room for the more traditional ways of doing things and indeed many professors support the idea of a more “boutique” approach to programming, given that massification of undergraduate education has led to dilution of the richness and rigour of intellectual endeavour.

I suggest that the abovementioned points could help guide the review team towards a reformed PSE which could position N.L. to leap forward in respect to the impending skills mismatch and the jobs of the future that remain largely unaddressed by our educational institutions.

Bill Radford,
St John’s


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