I've had a chance to read the whole report, aside from the fact that it needed another proof read (there are lots of typos, especially in the first few chapters), I think it is very good.
UNBSJ and UdeM have been quick to be very critical, they have two primary complaints: Commissioner Rick Miner is biased and the report is therefore worthless; this is not what Louis Robichaud would have wanted.
Criticism of Rick Miner is unfounded. Apparently he is on the board of Polytechnics Canada, and he is therefore biased in favour of them. Those who criticize him fail to mention that he is only one half of the commission and that the report was signed off on by a large advisory council which included such notables as Denis Losier and Elizabeth Weir. However, if that wasn't enough to ensure balance, why is Rick Miner deemed biased in favour of Polytechnics but not of UNB (of which he was vice-president for almost a decade) and colleges (he is currently president of Seneca College in Toronto)? Hooey, I say.
Similarly, I am disgusted by those who are trying to say that this is a betrayal of Louis Robichaud's legacy. It seems to me like the next logical step. Louis acted on the recommendations of a commission that said that small colleges needed to be brought together and resources and compatability between institutions had to improve. That summary applies totally to this report; it is an evolution of Louis Robichaud's vision, not a reversal.
The result for Northern New Brunswick seems to be very, very, very good. Presently, as I understand it, almost all UdeM degree programs at Edmundston and Shippigan only offer the first two years, thereafter you have to go to Moncton. Under the proposal, new Polytechnics in the northeast and northwest would continue to do this but would also offer full training (at the college, undergraduate and graduate levels) for vocations relevant to the region. This is a tremendous leap forward in access to post-secondary education for Francophones. Indeed, in addition to better education in the north, a renewed focus on one campus and more research money could make UdeM competitive with some of its better reputed counterparts in Quebec. Finally, rural Anglophones get a boost with first and second year university courses becoming available in Miramichi and Woodstock.
For UNBSJ, the benefits are not quite as obvious. They already have full college and university programs there, so it is easy to see it as taking three schools (UNBSJ, NBCC Saint John and NBCC St. Andrews) and changing them in to one and a half (Saint John Polytechnic with campuses in Saint John and St. Andrews). But it is much, much more than that. While Fredericton is the government and academic centre of New Brunswick and Moncton is the commercial centre, Saint John has and continues to be the industrial centre. A Polytechnic, while still offering university degrees in selected areas, will provide far better and more comprehensive training in the trades relevenant to working in an oil refinery or a power plant or other relevant fields, including at the unversity level as appropriate. Moreover, it would make Saint John home of - as far as I understand it - the only English Polytechnic east of Toronto, a good feather-in-cap for New Brunswick generally and Saint John specifically.
For students, I can see tremendous benefits. It maintains all that we have, makes it easier for people to study closer to home and offers far, far more choice. I don't know how many people I knew that changed degree programs when I was at UNB a few years back. I was one of them. The Commission proposes something at the front end to help students make better choices and in the middle to allow them to far more easily change programs without losing credit for the work they've already done. Moreover, the polytechnic would be perfect for the many people I know who went to unversity because they thought they had to and took a BA while they were trying to figure out what to do with their lives.
I am not totally sold on their proposal to scrap the tax holiday for university graduates (which I think could, if properly marketed, attract a lot of talented people from coast-to-coast to settle in New Brunswick) but I can appreciate where they are coming from.
This report offers the sort of good, transformational ideas that New Brunswick needs to achieve self-sufficiency, or at least get towards it. I hope that Premier Graham and Minister Doherty will move forward with a full implementation of this plan, with the possible exception of the student loan/grant/aid sections which I think merit a more thorough review; the commission is right to say some of the progams are ineffective, but they are new and not necessarily bad programs, but badly implemented programs.