On Campus

B.C. dysfunctional on higher ed

Splitting education department is no master plan, it is a symptom of incompetence

Danielle Webb has already covered the BC government’s bizarre decision to change the Ministry of Advanced Education into the Ministry of Regional Economic and Skills Development (for Colleges) and the Ministry of Science and Universities (for, you guessed it, universities). And I’m quite comfortable labeling it as bizarre, if only because everyone else seems to also.

“Post-secondary education is a collaborative field but, to get the most out of that collaboration, you need to have a single minister responsible for the entire system,” said Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators. “Our concern is that dividing those responsibilities between two Ministers may well detract from the kind of collaboration that we think is necessary and possible.

For her part, the new minister, Ida Chong, said “Science and universities are really going to be an important part of our economic future going forward,” which is true, but also a pretty hilarious non-justification for the two portfolios being together (example: Technology and Tourism are important parts of BC’s economic future, so why not make them one ministry? Oh right, it’s because they’re two separate things).

Anyway, Danielle analyzed the decision under the assumption that the government had a plan in this restructuring that could have long-term ramifications for how governments view post-secondary education. And that’s possible. But here’s another theory: The provincial government did this because it doesn’t know what it’s doing with post-secondary education.

In 2008, Paul Wells described the post-secondary file in BC as “a spiraling helldive of disaster”, and that was before a cut of over $16 million in aid programs for students last year. They’ve turned a number of regional colleges into universities, and invested heavily in graduate and research funding, but haven’t given the file anywhere near full attention over their nine years in office.

And if they’re suddenly going to change that, why have Ida Chong in charge of it? Since 2001, she’s been Minister of Healthy Living and Sport, Minister of Small Business, Technology and Economic Development, Minister Responsible for the Asia-Pacific Initiative, Minister of Community Services, Minister of Advanced Education and Minister of State for Women’s and Seniors’ Services. In other words, someone who gets shuffled from minor file to minor file.

With the Liberals currently languishing with Mulroneyesque numbers in the polls, the government is throwing things at the wall (Tax cuts! Full-day kindergarten! Cabinet Reshuffles!) at the wall and seeing what sticks.

So yes, this could all be part of some master plan to re-conceptualize the role of the universities in today’s knowledge economy. Given the care and attention—or lack thereof—lavished on post-secondary education by this government though, I doubt it.

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