Province releases post-secondary education plan

The Manitoba government is asking colleges and universities to emphasize employable skills, talent and knowledge in order to assist the economic recovery from COVID-19.

In early February, the province released a three-year plan entitled “Manitoba’s Skills, Talent and Knowledge Strategy.”

Advanced Education, Skills and Immigration Minister Wayne Ewasko said the government has been engaged in hundreds of consultations with stakeholders for more than a year.

The report recommends the province take steps including tying tuition to labour market demand, modifying the province’s program approval process, employing an outcomes-based funding model and reorganizing programs that oversaturate the labour market.

Ewasko said the strategy is intended to ensure that businesses would be able to hire “the right people at the right time with the right skills.”

“It’s been a major challenge regarding competitiveness and growth here in Manitoba,” he continued. 

“The strategy recognizes the need for a range of skills, from highly advanced knowledge workers, to critical thinkers with durable skills to specific technical and occupational skills and of course general workers with basic skills.”

“This includes the humanities, social sciences and arts programs.”

U of M president Michael Benarroch said the university had “received a mandate letter from the government [in January 2020] asking us to align with labour market needs and to work with industry.”

In his position as president, Benarroch said that one of his achievements has been collaborating with industry leaders in each faculty.

However, Scott Forbes, president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations, says that faculty associations were not consulted. He said that the province’s plan “lacks information.”

“I’m not sure our government fully appreciates how universities work and what they are supposed to do,” he told the Winnipeg Free Press.

He criticized the proposed policy of connecting tuition with the demands of the labour market, arguing that universities should not be narrowly focused on preparing students for careers, but should also emphasize academic pursuits.

Manitoba Liberal Party leader Dougald Lamont and the NDP’s advanced education and skills critic Jamie Moses have also been critical of the plan, specifically aspects such as tying programming to labour market demands and implementing outcome-based funding models.

Lamont accused the Manitoba government of “undermining and defunding post-secondary institutions” for ideological reasons.

In response to these criticisms, Ewasko said he believes he has “walked the talk for many many years already, being an educator myself, also being in opposition as the critic for advanced education and education itself, and now being the minister [of advanced education, skills and immigration].

“I strongly believe in working with absolutely everyone and I’m proud to be part of a government that is accountable to the taxpayers.”