Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Universities, colleges and polytechnics?

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.


Eugene said...

I feel for UNBSJ - I myself have recently been downgraded from a daily read to an occasional visit.....;)

Personally, I think the reaction to this plan is a joke. The plan is nothing but minor modifications to the existing system. The government is obviously trying to put the pieces in place for their vision of Saint John's energy hub status (cart before the horse?) but in the grand scheme what they're doing is certainly not as drastic as many are making it out to be.

What nobody is willing to say but which is the best part of the plan is that it effectively kills off the weakest link in the provincial university system and replaces it with a more practical institution for the community. If you want an arts degree, drive the 45 minutes down the road already. Cost savings? Yep. More practical training? Yep. Political maneuvering (wrt to the North)? Yep.

It's a plan that is hardly groundbreaking, I fail to see what all the squawking is about.

Anonymous said...

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. ---Arthur Schopenhauer.

Eventually we'll get to the third stage -- Tommy Douglas was opposed, Louis Robichaud was opposed. Not to put Graham in the same category as those two gentlemen but it is time for change and change isn't always bad. It's time to start doing things a bit differently.

Also don't know why everyone is lauding the degree in arts. A BA doesn't guarantee you a job. Take a poll at some of the call centres and see how many of them have general arts degrees.

Eugene said...

Let's not pretend the institution has anything to do with the outcomes though. It doesn't matter if you graduate with a BA or a electrician's certificate, if you received straight A's in either, you're going to do well. Graduate from either with C's and things will be difficult. The labour market in NB isn't so hot that people are willing to pony up big dollars to hire slackers no matter what their education.

nbpolitico said...

I think the addition of polytechnics to the system is a fairly big deal, the rest though (better portability, easier access) are indeed tweaks.

I feel for UNBSJ - I myself have recently been downgraded from a daily read to an occasional visit.....;)

Sorry, that happened when you weren't posting for over a month, you'll be restored to your former glory the next time I update it ;)

Also don't know why everyone is lauding the degree in arts. A BA doesn't guarantee you a job.

Who was lauding BAs? I certainly didn't, nor did I see anyone doing it.

Eugene said...

I think people have to be realistic about what we'll get in a polytechnic in NB. We're not going to all of a sudden be rivaling MIT or RPI. There will certainly be more offerings for students and probably more research but frankly, the same could have been done within the community college system and everyone would have thought the idea was great.

nbpolitico said...

I am not sure I agree. By definition a community college can't grant a degree, these polytechnics will be able to do so.

Rather than a one or two year program in an electrical technician job, a Saint Johner might be able to pursue a Bachelor of Applied Science in Nuclear Energy. Rather than a one or two year program in fisheries, a student in Shippigan could do say a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Fishery Economics.

Both are valuable programs, but right now you can only do the former and not the latter. If this were to move forward as proposed, you could do both.

I don't think anyone is suggesting we are going to be in the league of MIT, however, if people want to be able to do a bachelor degree in non-traditional, applied way they have to go to a polytechnic and I suspect we'll be able to attract a lot of people into our system from the other Atlantic provinces that will not want to travel to Toronto to do so. Moreover, we'll be able to better train New Brunswickers to make the economy more competitive.

Rob said...

I find this commission has missed the mark. I don't believe the problem in our post-secondary system lies within that system. The problem with our post-secondary education system is the secondary education system.

New Brunswick high schools are generally academic institutions, geared towards graduating all students with an academic diploma. As with most people and institutions that try to be all things to all people, the high school system fails. The reason our high school students have no idea what to do with their lives is that they only start to ponder that question at the twelfth grade.

I believe we need to return to a multi-streamed secondary education system. At the age of 14 or 16, students should be introduced to both advanced academic and advanced skilled trades. Neither should be encouraged, students/parents should be free to choose which combination of courses they desire. There is no reason our secondary school system cannot be producing both university ready and job-site ready young adults.

In Germany, at the age of 10, a student can choose between academic, vocational, and comprehensive schools. Academic schools gear teens towards a university entrance exam, vocational school train students
towards an apprenticeship, while comprehensive schools are sort of a polytechnic for the secondary school crowd. While 10 y/o may be a bit young to decide on ones future, we should be aware of the different systems available for educating youth.

I believe revamping our secondary schools is a necessary step to improving the post-secondary system. I don't know if creating a third tier of post-secondary education is necessary to correct a problem of cooperation between the two existing tiers, nor do I believe that the existence of a Polytechnical institute will solve the problems inherent in NB high schools.

I'm also curious to the reaction of the report in Acadian NB. The English media in Fredericton has only covered the reaction to the UNBSJ-polytechnic idea. What does Northern NB think of this report? Are they ready to give up their U de M campuses?

nbpolitico said...

Rob, you already made this point in another thread and it may well be a point well taken, however this was a report on the post-secondary education and they had no mandate to talk about high schools.

I believe an action plan for improving the high school system is forthcoming.

The only reaction I have seen re UdeM is from folks at the Moncton headquarters and they were unhappy.

Rob said...

nbp- the point I'm trying to make is that it is folly to repair a house when the foundation isn't up to snuff. Fixing our post-secondary system will only allow it to do perform as well as the secondary system allows it to. I've always wondered why primary and secondary education are kept separate from post secondary in our government. I understand that one system trains children while another trains adults. However, shouldn't the two be coordinating their efforts?

Most 18 year olds have no clue what they want to do with their lives, because they really haven't been exposed to many options. They mostly bumble off to uni for a year or two because that's where everyone else is going. Will giving them another post secondary option really solve that confusion?
The report does make mention of an "information portal" to help students, but will that really solve the problem? We had an information portal in high school, he was a guidance counselor with a bunch of brochures.

I hate to do this, because I hate the word, but we need to take a holistic approach to education. Education doesn't stop at grade 12, and become a radically different beast two months later at college/uni. Perhaps we should end high school at Grade 11, and send everyone to college/polytechic for two years like Quebec.

Anonymous said...

While I don't normally agree with Randy McKeen's Bottom Line, this morning was a different story.

I still am unsure how I feel about the report, I don't completely disagree with it and I don't completely agree with it. Part of the issue is that I do not know enough about polytechnics to say that they will work in a new system here and have the enrollment needed.

there is a larger issue, an issue that McKeen addressed today, and something I've agreed with for some time and that is the issue that we are continuously telling the next generation that university is the way to go. If you want to be successful you need a university degree. There is something inherently worng with telling children that other careers and jobs aren't "good" choices because you don't get a university degree. Neither my brother nor I were given the choice to not go to university, a diploma or certificate was not good enough, it had to be a degree. I know my parents weren't the only ones pushing this line of thinking either. so my brother and I both set off to university, unsure of what we wanted out of life, so we moved away from home and immersed ourselves in the university life but we were both extremely unhappy with our classes and what they meant for the future. So in his third year, my brother dropped out and in my third year, so did I. Best thing I ever did, though I can't speak for my brother but he does seem much happier now. We took some time off to think about what we wanted to do, I ended up back in university to finish my undergrad- with a little more focus on the future this time and things worked out for me. My brother on the other hand went to a polytehnic that was in midst of changing to a university. He took a specialized program to train him for a specific career path. He learned things that I didn't have the option to but if he wants to learn Nietze or Socrates or Locke he can go down to the local library and read what their thoughts were and make his own opinions about them.

We wasted a lot of time and money by enrolling in university because it was what we were supposed to do rather than what we wanted to do and I truly don't believe we are the minority here but maybe I am living in a bubble.

We need to teach the next generation that it is okay not to have a university degree, that there are respectable jobs out there that they can be extremely successful at without a university education. And while we are at it, let's tell them that it is okay to do the jobs that aren't at the top of the food chain in a given industry (e.g. nursing has been seeing a huge drop in enrollment because children have been taught that being a nurse isn't as good as being a doctor). There are larger issues at play here and we need to change our mentality to move forward.

nbpolitico said...

We need to teach the next generation that it is okay not to have a university degree

I agree and the commission recommends stronger community colleges and polytechnics as non-unversity options that still open doors to post-secondary education.

Anonymous said...

First, let me say that I simply stumbled upon this site while searching for background information on Eric Allaby, former MLA for Fundy Isles, whose comment in favour of a polytechnic was just published in the Telegraph Journal. It would seem that, much like Mr. Allaby, our host Mr. Politico seeks to curry favour with either the ruling political party or it's board of advisors, the Irving empire.

I have no relation to poor Mr. LeBlanc's blogging efforts, yet I can sympathize with what appear to be honest opinions, and filter out a few nuggets of fact from an otherwise disjointed and rambling rant.

In marked contrast to Mr. Leblanc are the individuals who seize upon a controversial topic, make sweeping pronouncements with regard to its validity, its worth and so on, to the extent that one must assume that to disagree with this person would only serve to prove the stupidity and naivete of the one in disagreement.

Hence, in commenting upon postings such as these, succeeding writers choose instead to exercise their writing skills and inflated egos to supplement the original post, to buttress it with intellectual observations and philosophical quotations.

How about this? You are wrong, you idiot; Saint John has a university, increased immigration, an intelligent citizenry who want the same choices as Frederictonians or Monctonians, and NBCC campus with plenty of space for expansion. Saint John is not an industrial city, it is a city of industry, of commerce, of art and culture, with an increasingly attractive and populated downtown core, with an ever-growing retail sector ...

As for comments - not everyone attending UNBSJ would be willing to, or able to, commute each day to Fredericton, probably for the same reason that they could not go into residence there. An arts degree is the foundation for countless professional careers. Foreign students attending UNBSJ are not interested in going to a trades school, they desire a university education. Fredericton is a backwater town, stagnant and relying on its political identity for survival. Moncton, now bigger than Saint John population-wise, would be a much better choice for a polytechnic, but owing to it's Francophone and Aboriginal identities will never be considered for 'down-sizing'.

Now, Mr. Politico, go ahead and cut up my observations - I have, however, made them, here they are, and although you may refute them, and mock them, they have been read and perhaps considered, which is after all my entire purpose here, to provide a few facts as opposed to what 'politicos' prefer to deal in, half-truths, backroom deals and hidden agendas ...

nbpolitico said...

Anonymous, I am bit taken a back by your aggressive tone. I always welcome a diversity of opinion here, often the counterpoints made don't change my opinion, but sometimes they do. Either way, I allow comments with absolutely no restrictions because I want to see the discourse happen.

I happen to think this is a very good plan, as I have explained here and in creater detail in a thread over on Eugene's blog. I won't repeat my points there again because I suspect we will just agree to disagree anyway.

However, your statement that "Mr. Politico seeks to curry favour with either the ruling political party or it's board of advisors, the Irving empire" couldn't be further from the truth. I have in the past advocated for an investigation of how the Irving media monopoly could be broken up, though I am not sure if I have done that on this blog, I think it has been no secret that I do not hold their papers in high regard. Regardless or whether or not there is bias, the fact that there is no competition results in sloppy journalism which is a diservice to New Brunswickers.

While I am a Liberal, and I make no secret of that, I have not been shy to criticize this government when they have gone wrong. However, this is a good report and, even if it wasn't, you can't shoot your blame at the government because it isn't their report and it remains to be seen whether or not they will implement it.

mikel said...

I haven't been here in awhile but I can see the above's point-since its his first time reading this blog. There isn't too much toadying, and people sometimes think that agreement with numerous parts of a committee's recommendations means 'something is up'.

But as usual this is much ado about nothing. With no details being released, there really isn't much to debate. In the paper today was an editorial talking about how Saint John MAY get a medical school, veterinary school, architectural school, etc. Nowhere did I see "fisheries economist", and I"m not surprised:)

IF the government announces that those schools plus a pharmacy school are in the offing, the attitude will change. Students won't welcome it, because they won't be enrolled in architecture, veterinary, pharmacy or medical school.

But as they say, whats in a name. Call it Saint John University and you can still incorporate trades from the community college-tons of places do.

But again it comes down to details-namely, who is teaching. You have business courses at a community college that may be taught by somebody with a BED. Do they get replaced by somebody with more credentials? The value of a school is NOT derived from its offerings but from its faculty.

But this is still playing catch up. The report is clearly trying to get the province caught up to the rest of the country. Not having those faculties listed above means the province is missing the boat on some of the highest salaried and biggest industries.

Finally, to argue a point, this is not ten years ago. The days of students 'hanging around' university to see what they want to do with life is over. Nobody pays that kind of money to sit in a classroom with no ideas.

But the statistics tell the story. With a university degree your earning potential goes up by $20,000 right there. Virtually every organization has been saying that education is the key. Technicians MAY get lucky, but watch a maytag commercial. Those guys in the mills took all kinds of technical courses, fat lot of good it did them.

Even mechanics are in a far different field. Lube shops take a lot of their business, and now owners have mechanics bidding on working hours.

So the people of St. John are right to be worried that this is just a move to tailor the educational system to industry, much of which is Irving which has been shedding technicians like a snake its skin.

The committee could alleviate that concern by saying EXACTLY what the system would look like, and then work out whether to call it a university or polytechnic later. Most american schools use the terms interchangeably anyway.

Anonymous said...

In the end we all know that the PSE report ; however flawed and incomplete it is will be implemented and Ed Doherty will be moved out of that portfolio asap so the citizens of Saint John will have less of an outlet to show more direct opposition to the plan.The most bizarre "love affair" this province has ever seen ( that being the Editorial Board of the Telegraph Journal and the Graham government ) will continue to spin any negative reaction to the liberal policy by telling New Brunswickers that what is good for the province " Irving Empire" is good for them and all the editorials will continue to "manufacture consent" which apparently passes for democracy these days.