Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Promises for post-secondary education? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

And now, what will appear to be a completely self-interested post from an academic. Where are the grandiose election promises for improving the state of post-secondary education (leaving aside, for the moment, that education is a provincial area of jurisdiction, because so are at least half of the other sectors that we've seen talked about over the past week, and the feds have been funding university research since the 1950s)? Where is the promise of fantastic new research funding for the humanities and social sciences? Where are the promises for putting money back into the transfers to the provinces that flow to universities so that they can start hiring faculty again, and reduce swelling class sizes?

Apparently, this is not an issue for the Liberal party. Universities and Research development do not rate as an "issue" on their website.
Neither does it show up for the Conservatives, although they seem to have some problem with chairs - what's with the "stand up" jargon?
The NDP, at least, thinks that education and training is an issue. But their proposals, such as they are, seem to be about lowering tuition fees and reducing student debt. Worthy goals, but they aren't going to improve the state of research and teaching.

To be frank, few of the big election promises made so far have appealed to me directly. I'm not upset about the level of taxes I pay. I use the health care system about once or twice a year, and thus care about its future mainly in an abstract sense. I currently have no intention of having children, and so child care is not a pressing concern for me, although I would like for my friends to have access to a quality system. I don't think that strengthening Canada's drug laws is a good idea, and if anything, was chagrined at the death of the decriminalization bill for marijuana. And I don't watch hockey, so Duceppe's proposal didn't strike me to the core. And as regular readers of this blog know, I'm not an accountability/ethics nut. Yes, some checks in the system are a good thing, but I'm cynical enough to believe that all parties will falter at some point when in power, and don't believe the "we will be lily-white" promises of any party - even the NDP.

I do, however, care passionately about the state of Canada's universities, colleges and other research institutions. I'm surprised that more baby boomers with children in the system don't seem to care more than they do. Do they think that growing class sizes is a good thing? Is it not a problem for people that universities aren't even replacing all of the professors that retire, let alone growing their faculties to improve their research capacities? Why are we not talking about Canada's need to be a leader in innovation and research, and about the connections between a well-educated workforce and economic growth? Why are we not talking about the role of the humanities in fostering intellectual debate? And in light of the NDP's platform, why aren't we talking about the issue of the accessibility of higher education, and the best way to structure tuition, scholarships and student debt loads?

Don't get me wrong. The issues that have been raised so far in the campaign are ones that matter. They are also the same topics that are continuously aired in Parliament and in the media, while education, the poor sibling to health care, continues to be marginalized. I'd like to see our leaders talking about some other neglected issues for a change.

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At 10:27 am, Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Not that you're not right, but I think a lot of the aging boomers care a lot more about skyrocketing tuition costs than they do about these sorts of problems. It's a more sellable issue.

By the way, did you see this great article in Paul Wells' blog about just this sort of thing? It came out of an interview with the new president of the U of Alberta. Good stuff.

At 10:47 am, Blogger Matt said...


You're right that it's a more sellable issue, and at least the NDP has some official position on the issue. But the quality of education should be worrisome as well.

And yes, I'm a devoted reader of Paul Wells' blog. His regular focus on research and post-secondary education, including that piece, are one of the reasons I enjoy his writing so much.


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