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Big news in G&M: economic downturn means boost for post-secondary enrolments

January 18, 2009

You know you’re right when Canada’s national newspaper publishes a story containing an argument circulating the halls of academe.

Many faculty have themselves experienced the tough times described in “Class Dismissed and Depressed” (Sat 17 Jan 2009) as they emerged from graduate school during the 1980s when the Gen Xers (who are typically–although erroneously, according to the G&M, described as the “lost generation”)– were graduating high school.

Both groups encountered difficulty as they entered the workforce in stagnant economic times;  both groups recognize hard times when they see them and, apparently, both groups assess the situation in a similar fashion.  Students are contemplating a few extra years in school–upgrading as they wait for a rejuvenated economy that requires their newly minted skills–just as those who’ve been there before are predicting.

Thus it is that the G&M claims a dramatic increase in graduate school enrolments.  This is, of course, music to the ears of administrators who’ve been engaged in collective hair-pulling trying to figure out how to pay the bills.  With extra funding from the federal government for every graduate student, inadequate provincial funding will be supplemented and the crisis in post-secondary funding will appear resolved.

It won’t be, of course.  The basic problems will still be there, and when the current economic crisis sorts itself out–or is sorted out by bailouts and stimulus packages–post-secondary administrators will  return to  hair-pulling and ever-ingenious strategies for attracting students needed to pay the bills.

It is to be hoped that in this brief respite from “managing” budget crises, university administrations and government will focus on the important principles of universality and accessibility.

Wouldn’t someone like to be remembered for making post-secondary education available to all qualified individuals regardless of ability to pay?

Where is the Tommy Douglas of post-secondary education?

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One Comment
  1. lchalmers permalink
    January 18, 2009 9:33 am

    The time seems especially ripe to make some investments (broadly defined) in “social infrastructure,” including (and, some might argue, especially) education. Given the perceived need for a “quick stimulus” and the inclination by some on the political spectrum to argue this is best achieved via tax cuts and increased consumer spending, one wonders if the opportunity to do something of Tommy Douglas proportions will be lost. There seems to be little time to organize a more thoughtful response, one that will leave longer-term benefits that reflect the values you mention (universality and accessibility), and yet can we afford not to forge such a response? We no doubt need ways to get these issues more firmly on the political agenda (for they seem to be flying way below the political radar right now). I’m writing some emails to politicians, but I doubt a smattering of emails will be enough…. I wonder what the university presidents are up to? This is a time where collective action may well bear fruit, so one can only hope they are not sitting on their hands.

    In the article, the national chairwoman of the Canadian Federation of Students is noted to have pointed out the disjuncture between governments wanting to help students transition into employment and their cuts to student summer employment programs. That’s a relatively small item in the grand scheme of things that should be rectified.

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