Friday, September 15, 2006

Better late than never - Conservative positions on post-secondary education

It's a little close to election day, but I did get a response from the Conservative candidate, Mike Olscamp, on post-secondary education policy today.

Overall, I'm pleased that the party took time to respond to my questions directly. I'm a little worried by the phrase "commercialization of research" that appears in his answer question #6, particularly as someone who works in the humanities. It's interesting to see that the Conservatives are supporting a continued federal role in post-secondary education, and I'm curious to see how hard they would fight for that. The comments on research funding are also encouraging. I'll let the rest of the answer speak for itself, although I will note that with the governing party, the actions of the past seven years speak more to me than the promises for the future. I am, however, pleasantly surprised at what seems to be the most well-developed and budget-crunched plan for post-secondary education.

Here are his responses to my questions:

1. What are your, and your party’s, main priorities in the sector of post-secondary education?

For my riding my main priority is ensuring that Mount Allison University maintains its status as a premier university in Canada. It is the economic engine for our region and is a social and cultural leader in our province.

The Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick has recently announced the 5 in 5 with its first goal which states that within 5 years we want to have the highest increase in workers with post-secondary education. This means that we will be making significant investments in our institutions, providing greater access for students to financial assistance and working with our private sector stakeholders to show the benefits of a highly trained workforce.

2. Where does your party stand with regards to federal involvement in post-secondary education? The federal government appears to be reconsidering the extent of its involvement in this sector. Does your party have a position on this issue?

We believe that the federal government should have a role in post-secondary education. Recently, through the Council of the Federation, our Premier Bernard Lord participated in a national forum titled “Competing for Tomorrow, A Strategy for Post-Secondary Education and Skills Training in Canada.”

The COF are looking for new ways to engage the federal government in post-secondary education. Although an agreement has not yet been reached we will continue to work with the other provinces and the federal government to find a suitable solution.

3. Tuition levels at New Brunswick universities, and certainly at Mount Allison University in your riding, are among the highest in Canada (indeed my students tell me that it is the highest in the country) How do you and your party intend to make access to post secondary education more affordable?

As tuition rates rise at our institutions the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick is looking at new and innovative ways of helping to lower the debt burden to our students. The Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick has introduced several measures during the past seven years in office to help keep the cost of post-secondary education affordable to all students in the province.

The tuition tax back program is one example of our commitment to helping relieve the student loan burden and since 1999 bursaries to New Brunswick students have risen 215%.

Students, parents and our society must all share in the responsibility for providing opportunities for students to pursue post-secondary education. Collectively we must look for solutions to assist the students while helping them keep their debts to a manageable level. The balance between loans and bursaries and other forms of non-repayable funding are ways to assist funding to students that the Progressive Conservative Party will continue to explore.

4. What is your party’s plan for reinvesting in NB universities so that they can remain competitive and attract top faculty and students from across Canada and around the world?

A recent study by the Atlantic Association of Universities flagged faculty recruitment and retention as an important issue in our region. Attracting highly qualified people in our region has always been a challenge due to the relatively small size of our institutions.

Over the past seven years the Progressive Conservative Government of New Brunswick has made significant investments in promoting the research agenda of the universities. Investments such as the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation and the Research Assistance Initiative have helped launch many research projects. We recognize that access to research funding is an important factor in attracting and retaining highly qualified personnel.

We are also committed to working with our partners through the Council of Atlantic Ministers of Education and Training (CAMET) to find regional solutions to this area of concern.

The PC Party also is developing an International Immigration Strategy and an International Education Strategy. We have identified a target of 10% for international enrollment at our universities and will look at new ways of supporting our universities in international recruitment.

5. How much is your party planning to invest in student loans, student bursaries or scholarships.

The global budget for student financial services is approximately 23M. Since taking office in 1999 we have increased bursaries by 215% and have introduced the tuition tax back credit. We will continue to work with the students and institutions to look at new ideas to reduce the burden of student debt.

6. How do you think the relationship between education and economic development plays out? Where does post-secondary education fit in your party’s economic development plans?

There is a direct link between education and economic development. The value of a post-secondary education and earning potential has been identified in many studies. In our region of Tantramar, Mount Allison University provides many direct and indirect jobs that help drive the local and provincial economy. We must also consider commercialization of research as potential areas of return.

As stated earlier, the PC party is investing in research though the NBIF and the RAI’s, we believe that investing in research will help attract HQP and has potential for huge returns on investments. You can never loose when you invest in people.

7. Is there anything else that you would want an undecided voter to know about your positions on post-secondary education?

I am a strong proponent of Mount Allison University and post-secondary education. I am open to discussing any options and ideas that can help us strengthen us as a region or the province as a whole.

Premier Bernard Lord is also a strong proponent of post-secondary education and Mount Allison University. He has provided increased and stable funding to our universities, he has introduced the tuition tax back credit and has made significant investments in university infrastructure.

We have accomplished much and are on the right track but there is still much more we need to accomplish. On September 18th I hope that I can count on your support.

Since this is likely the last post in this series, click on the links for the Liberal and NDP responses.

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At 5:15 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mount Allison actually has the second highest tuition, the first being Acadia. While I do feel that tuition and student funding must be dealt with, I also feel that you get what you paid for, and I would gladly shell out the bucks to do it all over again.

While the Province has certainly given money to MTA in the last few years ( I believe the last one was spring 2005) much more is given to the larger UNB. The province also cut the amount of money that was given to New Brunswick students attending NB schools. It is not enough, however, to simply provide the bursaries and the scholarships, what needs to be addressed is the operating budgets of the schools. It was reported that in the year 2005-2006, MTA students were officially paying a greater portion of their tuition costs than the government.

To their credit, though, they have made attempts at retaining graduates in the province, and from my understanding, the incentives offered extend to any student graduating from a NB school, regardless of province of residence.

At 2:16 pm, Blogger Idealistic Pragmatist said...

You've been critical of the amount of time it's taken for some of these candidates to answer your questions, which is certainly fair. But you might want to keep one thing in mind as you evaluate candidates' behaviour in this respect: it takes an awfully long time to come up with thoughtful responses, and time is something no candidate has enough of already. Also, you're not the only one sending in questions like this, so the response time may well have more to do with how big a campaign any given candidate is running than it does with the candidate's views on reaching out to the public.

When I was working on a federal campaign in the last election cycle, these sorts of things were the bane of our existence. We wanted to take them seriously, but there were so many things conspiring against us, timewise. In the end we did answer every email, but sometimes it took us a long time.


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