‘Badly Wise, Even Dangerous’: Think Tank Criticizes Government of Alberta’s Post-Secondary Education Strategy

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The Alberta government’s plan to transform post-secondary education is “ill-advised and even dangerous,” a new think-tank report warns.

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On Tuesday, the Parkland Institute, a non-partisan research center located at the University of Alberta, published a report criticizing Alberta 2030: Building Skills for Jobs, the province’s 10-year plan to focus higher education on job skills and training.

University of Lethbridge sociology professor Trevor Harrison, who is also a former director of the Parkland Institute, co-authored the report and said the strategy proposes significant changes and cuts that will have a “drastic and dramatic effect. negative ”on the province’s post-secondary education system. .

“Alberta 2030 means reducing education to immediate vocational training and not preparing students for the job market of the future or preparing for the kind of economy we want in this province,” he said. .

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Part of the problem with the strategy, he added, is that it cites misleading statistics from Alberta 2019 MacKinnon report.

According to the MacKinnon report, Richard Mueller, professor of economics at the University of Lethbridge, said Alberta spends between $ 5,000 and $ 15,000 more per full-time student than Quebec, Ontario and the United States. British Columbia.

But these findings, he added, which group together all post-secondary institutions, including community colleges and vocational schools, are misleading.

“For many reasons, these community colleges and vocational schools have been set up in small rural areas and are very expensive to operate,” he said. But once those schools are separated from the results, “the numbers are totally different” from the degree-granting institutions, he added.

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“The numbers show that Alberta has higher costs in the college system, and not so much in the university system,” Mueller explained.

Rafat Alam, president of the MacEwan University Faculty Association in Edmonton, agreed that data from Alberta 2030 compares “apples to oranges” in terms of per capita spending, and took issue with the plan’s mention. ” a performance-based funding model for institutions.

“The academic literature has shown too many times that performance-based funding offers no efficiency gains,” he said. “It’s just not effective.”

Alam was also concerned about the type of graduates the Alberta 2030 strategy would produce in a post-COVID world in need of an economic recovery. Quoting the Conference Board of Canada, a nonprofit think tank that analyzes economic trends, Alam said Alberta’s future lies in a knowledge-based economy that depends on education, not knowledge. training.

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“What the university system provides is education, which is more appropriate for a future diverse knowledge base,” he said.

Harrison added that Alberta’s economy has changed over the past 20 to 30 years and that the oil and gas industry will not be a reliable economic driver in the future, given the volatile price of oil and the adoption of automation in industry.

While the Alberta 2030 strategy focuses on developing specific skills and training for a rapidly changing economy, Harrison said, university and college education can provide the kind of “deep learning” and critical thinking skills. that will be important in the future.

“If Alberta is to get ahead of that curve and prepare our students for this future economy, we need to have some kind of comprehensive education – the kind of thing that post-secondary universities and colleges in particular have been very good at. over the years. . “

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In a statement to Postmedia, Laurie Chandler, press secretary to Alberta Higher Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, said the government has engaged representatives from post-secondary institutes across Alberta to create an affordable system. and affordable designed to meet future economic demands.

She also cited findings from the Conference Board of Canada, which indicated that economic changes have created a need to focus on lifelong learning where workers regularly update their skills, and employers are working with post-secondary institutes to develop shorter programs to do this.

“There is also a need to eliminate unnecessary duplication,” the statement said, “and stronger pathways are needed to improve the movement and transfer of students throughout the system, without having to repeat lessons.”

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