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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Let's talk about PSE

My friend Jeff Jedras (whom I had the pleasure of meeting a week ago at the Stephane Dion reception in Toronto) wrote a post a while back on post-secondary education. He was concerned (rightfully) that the issue hasn't been getting as much attention in this race as it should be. He put out a call to all of the campaigns to put forward their ideas on improving/reforming PSE. Two candidates replied -- Carolyn Bennett and Bob Rae.

Recently, Bob came out with a seven-point plan to address post-secondary education and training. For the benefit of Jeff and others, I thought it would be appropriate to reiterate that vision here.

Bob Rae believes education, training, research must re-emerge as priorities of the national government. We must recognize that prosperity, shared opportunity and equity are mutually reinforcing.

Mr. Rae outlined a 7-point plan to address these labour and educational issues:

1) A principle we must enshrine in our education systems is that every qualified student should have access to college and university. No one should be loaded down with debts they can’t afford.

2) We need a federal-provincial student grants and loans program to cover both the living expenses of students and their tuition, starting with the least well-off students, and moving steadily upwards.

3) Ottawa should be a full funding partner in supporting the base operations of colleges and universities and priorities for labour market training, apprenticeship, research and graduate education.

4) Apprenticeships should be recognized as a postsecondary destination, and apprenticeship programming delivered by colleges should be seen as a core focus of education policy.

5) We must ensure Aboriginal Canadians can reach their full potential –jobs in the natural resource sector are often going unfilled, for instance; we have to do a better job in ensuring opportunities for skilled trades and apprenticeships. Alberta resource sector companies have taken important steps in this direction.

6) We have to work harder to ensure that immigrants get jobs in their areas of expertise to help lessen the skills shortage. The Canadian economy loses $4-5 billion per year due to the credential recognition problem. We should also look at inland processing of applications from foreign students who want to stay and work in Canada.

7) A key source of growth is research and development. Yet this year’s federal budget was bereft of anything for the “excellence agenda”. We need a research and innovation strategy in Canada involving Ottawa, the provinces, universities, research institutes and the private sector. Universities must work with companies and venture capital to take the fruits of public research dollars to the market.

People may not agree with what Bob is saying or has said on this, but at least he's putting something forward, unlike other candidates. A healthy debate on PSE is important. In my opinion, this is one of the most pressing issues facing Canada today. More than any other topic, it reflects on our ability to sustain our way of life and standard of living, particularly in the face of growing foreign competition.

As always, comments are welcome.