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University chiefs highlight skills shortage, warn of need to expand training

Oct 19 2012
Presidents of B.C. universities meet with the Times Colonist editorial board on Thursday. From left: David Turpin, University of Victoria; George Iwama, University of Northern British Columbia president, and Stephen J. Toope, University of British Columbia. 

Presidents of B.C. universities meet with the Times Colonist editorial board on Thursday. From left: David Turpin, University of Victoria; George Iwama, University of Northern British Columbia president, and Stephen J. Toope, University of British Columbia.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, Victoria Times Colonist , timescolonist.com Oct. 18, 2012

B.C.’s six research universities urged the provincial government Thursday to expand post-secondary education in the face of a growing skills shortage across B.C.

The Research Universities’ Council released a three-point plan that recommends 11,000 new post-secondary spaces, additional financial aid for students in need and stable funding for research projects.

“We’re in a situation now where we’ve got people without jobs and jobs without people,” University of Victoria president David Turpin told the Times Colonist editorial board.

 “We’ve got empty jobs where people cannot find the talent, and then we’ve got people out there that don’t have the education to fill jobs. What a terrible place to be in and that’s what we want to fix.”

Turpin presented the council’s plan to the legislature’s select standing committee on finance, which is holding pre-budget hearings across the province.

The universities propose spending $130 million over four years to add spaces for 4,400 college and trade students, 3,600 undergrads and 3,000 graduate students. 

“Very simply, our proposal is to have a space for every qualified student in post-secondary education in this province, so young people know that there will be a space for them, whether it’s in trade school, whether it’s in a Ph.D. program,” Turpin said.

The universities also want the government to invest a further $51 million a year in aid, so that any qualified student can attend college or university, regardless of their financial circumstances.

University of B.C. president Stephen Toope said “sticker shock” at the price of post-secondary school deters many students from pursuing an education.

The council wants the government to establish a grant program that would give 24,000 undergrad students $1,500 each per year.

“The idea is to get them into the system, to relieve their sense of nervousness and to say, ‘You can be part of advanced education,’ ” Toope said.

In addition, the universities called on the government to provide $15,000 scholarships to 1,000 graduate students a year.

“B.C. is the only major province that has no graduate scholarship program,” Toope said. As a result, students are leaving to study elsewhere, he said. Alberta provides 3,000 graduate scholarships a year, while Ontario offers 3,500.

“We can’t afford to lose some of our most talented people simply because there’s no graduate-program funding,” he said.

Finally, the universities called on the government to provide stable, long-termfunding for research. Turpin noted that the province already provides financial support to a number of important projects, such as the Michael Smith Foundation, Genome B.C., and the Ocean Networks Canada. The B.C. Knowledge Development Fund, meanwhile, has pulled in more than $1 billion from the federal government and the private sector. All those initiatives need to have consistent and predictable funding, so B.C. can continue to encourage innovation and create jobs, Turpin said.

The Research Universities’ Council includes UVic, UBC,  Royal Roads University, Thompson Rivers University, Simon Fraser University and the University of Northern British Columbia.

lkines@timescolonist.com 

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