Created 25 February 2011 13:02
On January 17, 2011, the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of British Columbia (CUFA BC) issued a questionnaire to BC Liberal leadership candidates soliciting their answers to seven “big questions” in BC higher education. None of the candidates responded to the questionnaire or to the follow-up request for a brief statement of their views on higher education.
In order to discern the candidates’ views towards higher education, we’ve reviewed the published platforms and media statements by all the candidates, including those candidates who have subsequently withdrawn from the contest. Unfortunately, it was not possible to include the information from Ed Mayne because he removed his policy statements from his website when he withdrew from the leadership race on February 17th. Moira Stilwell withdrew from the leadership race on February 16th. Both Mayne and Stilwell pledged their support for George Abbott.
The views of the candidates summarized below are organized along the themes identified in CUFA BC’s original questionnaire.
Post Secondary Credentials of Candidates
George Abbott received his BA from UBC and his MA in British Columbian and Canadian politics from UVic. Christy Clark studied at SFU, the University of Edinburgh, and at the UniversitÃ© de la Sorbonne in Paris, but did not obtain a credential. Mike de Jong holds a BA from Carleton University and a law degree from the University of Alberta. Kevin Falcon has a BA in Political Science from SFU. Moira Stilwell’s medical degree is from the University of Calgary.
Vision for Higher Education in British Columbia
George Abbott, Christy Clark, Mike de Jong, Kevin Falcon and Moira Stilwell all stress the importance of higher education to the economic development of the province. Abbott, a former college instructor, goes further to identify higher education institutions as partners in creating an innovative and creative workforce. Stilwell, a clinical professor at UBC and former Minister of Advanced Education, has the most developed vision for a knowledge-based economy, which is founded on higher education in science and technology. None of the candidates mention the importance of higher education to the intellectual, social and cultural development of British Columbians. Nor do any candidates identify specific goals for higher education attainment by British Columbians.
Cost of Higher Education
Only Christy Clark and Moira Stilwell address the costs of higher education for students. Clark proposes scholarship programs and other measures for the costs facing rural students to attend higher education. Stilwell proposes a reduction of the interest rate on student loans from prime plus 2.5% to prime plus 1%. She also proposes a 50% increase in the value of the Passport for Education for students from urban centres who enroll in community colleges in regions where there is a demand for skilled workers.
George Abbott, Christy Clark, Kevin Falcon and Moira Stilwell all address the need for investment in research and development in general terms. Clark and Falcon specifically support the creation of the Wood Design and Innovation Centre in Prince George. Abbott indicates the need to attract workers and researchers in the technology fields. None of the candidates addresses the need to invest in university-based research.
None of the candidates offer any proposals on supporting and improving post-secondary teaching.
Barriers to Participation in Higher Education
George Abbott, Christy Clark and Moira Stilwell all speak of the need to improve post-secondary education opportunities outside of the Lower Mainland / Victoria. With the exception of the measures mentioned above regarding the cost of higher education, no candidate proposes how to lower financial barriers for students from low-income backgrounds. None of the candidates addresses the particular problems faced by Aboriginal British Columbians in accessing and successfully completing a higher education.
George Abbot stresses the need to attract international students to learn, live and work in our province. None of the other candidates speaks to the role of international students in our post-secondary education system.
Quality of Higher Education
Although Christy Clark indicates that she wants to ensure that rural students get a high-quality education, neither she nor any of the other candidates offer proposals on how to sustain and improve the quality of higher education in our public post-secondary institutions. Nor do any of the candidates suggest how to protect the BC higher education brand from lower-quality private and out-of-province providers of post-secondary education.
Christy Clark proposes to merge the Ministry of Science and Universities and the Ministry of Regional Economic and Skills Development back into a single ministry with a new focus on skills development and supporting the formation of new businesses. Christy Clark and Kevin Falcon support the expansion of engineering and health professions education in the North. George Abbott and Moira Stilwell support a more general strategy of identifying training needs in the various regions of the province and working to meet those needs.
While recognizing that there are many demands on leadership candidates and that their first priority is to convince party members of their merits as leader, it’s nonetheless disappointing that none of the candidates chose to respond to the CUFA BC questionnaire. Higher education is absolutely vital to the economic, intellectual, social and cultural prosperity of the province.
Of the four remaining candidates for the BC Liberal leadership, George Abbott appears to have the best grasp of the full potential of higher education. Christy Clark and Kevin Falcon have very similar views, focussing on higher education as a tool for economic development. Mike de Jong has the least developed position on higher education, to the point that it barely warrants mention in his campaign material.
Once the BC Liberal Party members choose their next leader and he/she takes up his/her duties as Premier, CUFA BC will send a copy of its questionnaire to the new Premier and the minister(s) responsible for higher education. With any luck, a clearer picture of the future of higher education under the new BC Liberal leader will emerge in short order.