Oh CMEC, how we long for you

Miriam Jones summarized my recent article, “What is a university anyways?” on a blog dedicated to “the fight to ensure access to higher education in New Brunswick” (self-described). To put things in context: the blog’s purpose is to protest a government PSE report that recommended that Saint John’s community college and branch of the University of New Brunswick be rolled into one institution, called a polytechnic.

The blog entry makes a few frank conclusions worth mentioning.

First: “Bone fide research is considered by everyone but provincial politicians to be a crucial component of an institution’s ability to offer university-level teaching.” I think that this is beginning to change. Many people (including university presidents, professors, and politicians) believe that there is a place for institutions that are great at delivering undergraduate, university-level education that don’t do research. That is what the Alberta report is all about: recognizing that there are different types of institutions and not trying to make them “do all things, all the time.”

But not everyone is on the bandwagon yet. And until they are, governments and institutions need to be careful to protect their students from receiving what is considered a “lower status” degree when they are expecting to get the same thing they would from any university.

The entry also notes that the minister of higher education in Alberta said that it was up to the institutions to build relationships with specific institutions to ensure their degrees would be recognized. “Sounds like a whole new administrative department, with a big travel budget, will be needed at each and every college. That’s okay; they can just cut some programmes.” Um… yeah, that’s a problem.

But the blog hits on what the problem really is: the naming game. Alberta isn’t sure what to call its degree granting colleges (the new report suggests calling them baccalaureate institutions). Nor BC (Campus 2020 report says they should be called regional universities). Nor New Brunswick (polytechnic). This leads to students not knowing what they are getting, employers not understanding their resumes, and admissions officers not knowing what institutions to recognize.

Sounds like the perfect issue for the Council of Ministers for Education Canada to get their teeth into. But now I’m only dreaming…