Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Let's stimulate our colleges and universities

As we discuss stimulus and appropriate forms thereof, this article is timely. While we fight to save manufacturing jobs we need to keep in mind that, by and large, the manufacturing jobs of yesterday that were the underpinning of our economy are not going to be the economic engine of tomorrow. If we're going to expect our young people to train for jobs in the industries and fields of tomorrow, and older workers leaving the manufacturing sector to retrain, then we need to have the capacity to make that happen:

The nation's colleges and universities aren't equipped to handle a sharp increase in enrollment. Some are already turning away applicants; others are canceling courses and letting staff go as their endowments shrink.

This suggests that paying people to go to university or community college – through the Employment Insurance Fund or some other retraining allowance – won't be effective.

Without more classroom space, more teachers and more courses, only a lucky few will get in the door. Without more creativity on the part of both policy-makers and educators, Canada's post-secondary system will be a victim, not a beneficiary, of economic circumstances and political expectations.

This is a deeper problem and debate than just how much stimulus and where and how, but it ties into the potential effectiveness of any stimulus programs, as well as the long-term health of our economy. An educated, trained workforce means a shorter down-turn. But tax cuts won't create training spaces. Nor well direct training grants to individuals. Creating capacity requires increasing post-secondary transfers and working with the provinces to ensure the funding goes where its needed quickly and is actually used to build capacity.

And this comes back for me, again, to the conservative mantra of cut taxes to the bone. Sounds nice, but the fact is, taxes pay for things. Such as building capacity in the PSE system. And it's an investment that we should all be happy to make, because an educated workforce benefits all of us.

Putting $100 back in my pocket won't give us a more competitive workforce better able to compete in a global economy, and it certaintly won't make my job any safer.

But investing it in the PSE system will.

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2 comments:

WesternGrit said...

Bang on Jeff. I've always been a strong proponent of Post-Secondary Ed. We need to fund it (per some of my recent past blogs), but you highlight a critical point: We need more classrooms, more resources, and more teachers/profs. We are also very good at the "foreign student game", and we could become a very effective "training country". In the new economy, education can be one of our biggest exports.

Devin Johnston said...

Exactly right. Even a lot of business leaders and economists who might generally be consider right-leaning/free-market proponents have been arguing for the past few years that public investment in PSE is a necessary component of sensible economic policy in Canada.