Alberta’s advanced education minister says action coming on MacKinnon report

EDMONTON — Alberta’s advanced education minister says he hopes to soon announce action on a report that characterizes the province’s post-secondary network as rudderless and rife with duplication.

Demetrios Nicolaides was noncommittal Wednesday about how he will respond to the report’s recommendation to consolidate the 26 schools.

“I don’t think anyone wants to look at the option of shutting down an institution,” Nicolaides said while at an announcement of a new committee to look at boosting participation in skills trades.

“We’re still looking through all of the recommendations and trying to figure out what the next steps will be.”

Nicolaides said a decision on whether to remove a cap on tuition, as recommended in the report, will be addressed when the budget is delivered Oct. 24.

The report on provincial spending, from a panel chaired by former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon, was released earlier this month. United Conservative Premier Jason Kenney has said it will guide the budget and other long-term policy decisions.

The report is highly critical of Alberta’s $5.6-billion post-secondary system. It says it is overly dependent on government grants, lacks policy direction tied to provincial goals and has extensive overlap along with poor completion rates in some schools.

It urges a fundamental rethink of how the institutions are funded and directed, how they can raise funds and whether it would make more sense to consolidate resources in fewer institutions.

“There does not appear to be an overall direction for Alberta’s post-secondary system,” the report concludes.

It says the province needs a cost-conscious post-secondary system linked to government priorities, including meeting labour market demand and expanding research and technology commercialization.

“The government should move quickly to address the future of those post-secondary institutions that do not appear to be viable in future funding scenarios,” says the report.

Nicolaides said he agrees with the report’s findings and his department is looking at options on how to get feedback from schools, including a panel with representatives from all institutions.

“We’re still working through some of the details and hope to be able to have some clarity quite soon.”

Nicolaides made the comments as he announced a new 19-member panel that is to focus on boosting apprenticeship enrolment along with raising the profile and value of trade skills.

The panel, headed by presidents of technology institutes in northern and southern Alberta, is to deliver an interim report by early next year and a final one later in 2020.

Glenn Feltham, president of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, said one goal will be to debunk a misconception that skills trades have lesser merit than academic degrees.

“Skilled trades should attract the very best and brightest people that have a passion for working with their hands,” said Feltham.

NDP advanced education critic David Eggen said the panel is a step in the right direction, but suggested it could be moot depending on larger policy decisions made by Nicolaides.

“The MacKinnon report suggests the UCP should jack up tuition and slash grants to the very institutions that provide this training to Albertans,” Eggen said in a statement.

“I hope the UCP will see that our post-secondary institutions need investment, not austerity, to deliver the skills training Albertans deserve.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2019.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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