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Whoa… we’ve been improved

July 11, 2009

new&improvedBritt Dysart pushed all the buttons today.

Incredible as it is, the Liberals actually believe they’ve had a positive influence on post-secondary education.  Let’s look at the record a little more critically than Dysart does in “Government is Improving Higher Education” (TJ 11 July 2009).

After applauding the Graham government for its visionary acumen, namely it sees the significance of post-secondary education to the future of the province (egads! are they detectives or soothsayers?), he gets to the crux of the matter: dollars distributed hither and yon in order to foster the collective amnesia required before New Brunswickers head to the polls.

He begins by pointing out how much the government has done for students: debt thresholds, rebates, and tuition freezes.  All well and good: No one wants to encumber students with excessive debt.  At the same time, government funding has not been increased sufficiently.  At UNB Saint John, for example, the operating budget is excessively dependent upon tuition, and paying the bills becomes a problem when tuition is frozen without funding from another source—lets say for argument’s sake, the government!  As a result, students receive some much needed financial relief, but those who attend UNB Saint John will find programs that are under-resourced.  Over the past five years, several departments have lost faculty members through retirement or relocation, and vacated positions have not been filled by full-time professors.  AND since last fall, there has been a de facto hiring freeze at UNB Saint John.  As a result there are fewer options for students.  So much for a system that is “student-focused.”

Of course, the above situation is not strictly tied to the tuition freeze.  It relates more generally to the state of under-funding at New Brunswick universities and at UNB Saint John specifically.

Little has changed in that regard.  No matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find much in the government’s largess for UNB Saint John.  Dysart mentions that there will be a NBCC building on the Tucker Park campus—but, strictly speaking, that money will not go to UNB Saint John.  He mentions that MtA is getting $4.3 m; UNB is getting $18 m for the Currie Centre; STU is getting $3 m; U de M is getting $36 m for “a new research facility in Moncton and major renovations on the Edmundston and Shippagan campuses.”  As a politico you’d have thought he care more about how little old Saint John would fare on the university side of PSE.  Alas, we are not on his radar—at least where finances are concerned.

UNB Saint John is mentioned positively when it comes to plans for building an outpost of NBCC at Tucker Park.  Dysart states that co-location “will foster greater collaboration among the colleges and universities,” and presumably, UNBSJ and NBCC will have a relationship much like that described for UNB-F, STU and NBCC-F: “allowing for greater flexibility among students who wish to take courses in both institutions.”  All well and good (#2): but how will these institutions collaborate?  Can anyone elaborate?  At what level and to what end?

Dysart implies that the collaboration will be student-focused, but what does that mean?  Surely given the hoopla accompanying co-location, benefits will extend beyond sharing cafeterias, study lounges, and utility bills.  This is, after all, PSE.  Real sharing entails academics: laboratories, libraries, and programs.

The one thing I do agree with in Dysart’s commentary is that as we move towards an election, we need clarity rather than rhetoric, but I’m not convinced that as the president of the NB Liberal Association he can deliver what is needed.

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