Don't Sacrifice Universities on Deficit-Reduction Altar

Article excerpt

Because we live in a knowledge-based economy, the need for a well-educated and flexible generation of employees, entrepreneurs, community builders and leaders is critically important to the future health of Manitoba. The data is conclusive: a university degree is the surest path to prosperity. Jobs for university graduates have grown twice as fast as those for college graduates since 2008. Governments are presently focused on closing the skills gap in Canada, but employers are saying they need more university graduates with critical thinking and transferable skills. This is not about universities or colleges: Canada needs to fund both to be effective.

Yet precisely when we most need increased investment in post-secondary education, we see the opposite happening. Thirty years ago, Canada was a leader among Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development countries in university attainment rates. Now Canada ranks 15th of 34 countries. While others are growing and investing in their university system, in Canada government support has dropped nearly 50 per cent since 1978, when average support was more than $20,000 per student. By 2012, per student funding was $10,900.

When we measure university participation for youth, we find that Canada slips to 21st place. Here again, Canada is falling behind a wide array of nations including the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Korea.

As we prepare to hear details of the provincial budget on April 16, we need to remember that our mission has also changed substantively in the last decade. At the University of Winnipeg, enrolment is no longer solely about 18-year-olds following in their parents' footsteps. We have created strong community outreach and support programs that encourage non-traditional students so they may achieve personal and economic success, including adult learners, war-affected youth, First Nations, Metis and Inuit students and new immigrants. These supports, under a banner called Community Learning, are possible only because of generous private donors and assertive fundraising. It is these non-traditional learners who are the future of this city and province. That is a demographic certainty and they need our support. Our community outreach is effective. …