N.B. promises massive investment in colleges

12,000 new college spaces highlight of New Brunswick higher ed plan

Update: “Energy Boom = 12,000 new College Spaces:” New Brunswick’s minister of post-secondary education explains his plans for a vast increase in the province’s college system—driven, he says, by several mega-projects and their need for skilled workers.

The New Brunswick government has abandoned the idea of merging university and community college campuses to form polytechnic institutions.

Instead, the Liberal government announced today it is taking a less controversial approach and creating “formal partnerships” between universities and colleges to create what it calls Institutes of Applied Learning and Training.

Premier Shawn Graham said the key to the province’s future success is a better educated workforce. He added that the government will spend an additional $90 million over the next five years to reform the post-secondary education system so that it has more to offer students, communities, and businesses.

“We want to raise the bar in helping our people to be better educated,” he told a news conference. This is the government’s second attempt to reform the post-secondary education system.

Last year, a commission recommended merging several university and community college campuses to create polytechnic institutions.

Angry protests and petitions prompted the government to order another study of the issue, and this one came up with the idea of a collaborative approach between universities and colleges to establish institutes of applied learning.

Graham said it’s all about giving business and industry the workers they need to succeed.

“This will be driven by the marketplace,” he said.

John McLaughlin, president of the University of New Brunswick, said the institutes will complement, rather than replace, universities and colleges.

“This allows us to celebrate and continue the richness and tradition of university life and have that (institute) as a separate vehicle to deal with the real needs of skills development and skills training,” he said.

There will be two institutes to start: one located in northern New Brunswick operating in French, and an English version in Saint John.

The government said it will strengthen the community-college system by opening up 11,000 more spaces over the next five years and an additional 1,000 spaces in the next five years and setting up a new campus in Fredericton.

That kind of planned growth is enormous, given New Brunswick’s modest population of about 750,000. If Ontario were to increase college enrolment at the same rate proportionate to its population, it would translate into just over 200,000 new college spaces. That is more than double the number of full-time students currently enrolled in Ontario’s colleges. The New Brunswick plan would similarly be the equivalent of Quebec creating approximately 125,000 new college spaces.

The college growth plan is made more ambitious given New Brunswick’s post-secondary participation rate below the national average and its aging population. The government intends to augment enrolment with more international students, but that will only cover a fraction of the stated goal.

The government also promised to continue the freeze on tuition at both universities and colleges for one more year, along with a $2,000 grant for all first-time university students. But Post-Secondary Education Minister Ed Doherty stressed that those programs are only scheduled to continue until 2009.

Duncan Gallant , president of the New Brunswick Student Alliance, said the provincial government has offered no long-term financial solutions for debt-ridden students. He said that it is useless to offer more post-secondary programs if students can’t afford them.

“We need to see a long-term commitment for student financial aid,” Gallant said.

New Brunswick university tuitions are among the highest in Canada.

with files from the Canadian Press and Nick Taylor-Vaisey