On Feb. 8, the Government of Manitoba unveiled the Skills, Talent and Knowledge Strategy, which outlines its plan for post-secondary education, training and immigration. The plan proposes policies that could drastically change what universities look like in Manitoba.
This 14-page document outlines the province’s four primary objectives: to “anticipate skills needed for the future,” to “align education and training to labour-market needs and help students succeed now and in the future,” to “foster entrepreneurial and innovative skills” and “grow, attract and retain talent.”
For universities, specifically, a few noteworthy policies are being proposed. The provincial government wants to ensure that “all students are exposed to work during their studies.” This would include internships, work placements and other similar opportunities.
Furthermore, “post-secondary institutions will be tasked to identify and shift programs that oversupply the labour market, as well as program opportunities in high-demand areas.” While little more is known about how these policies will be designed and implemented, it is clear that the provincial government is looking to play a more active role in steering Manitoba’s universities and colleges.
David Telles-Langdon, chair of the University of Winnipeg’s (U of W) Department of Kinesiology and Applied Health, says “there’s nothing particularly unreasonable in the sentiment of what they’re asking,” adding that ensuring students are employed following their degrees is an important goal.
“The concern that’s being voiced by faculty members ... is that there are a lot of intangibles like critical thinking that students get from attending university, and there isn’t a metric by which we can measure that,” he says. Telles-Langdon’s main concern is that it will be difficult to measure these types of skills, and that certain programs might suffer under an outcomes-based model.
The province is proposing “an outcomes-based funding model for colleges and universities to promote positive outcomes for students and alignment with industry needs,” according to their recently released document.
Aaron Moore, associate professor of political science at the U of W, says this government has a poor track record on universities due to its history of cutting operating grants.
“Universities and colleges are drivers of (economic development), because Canada is increasingly transitioning to a high-skilled workforce,” he says. Moore finds it odd that the Progressive Conservative government does not recognize this, despite the fact that economic growth is usually a pillar of conservative agendas.
“I think it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what a university is,” Moore says.
“Universities have always been about broadening peoples’ education beyond high school, building critical thinking skills, more generalist skills,” he says, adding that he is skeptical the proposed student work programs will necessarily help most students and their career outcomes.
“Some disciplines are better geared to that than others,” Moore says. “You’re taking away options for students, since you’re telling them at a young age: ‘decide what your future job is going to be.’”
The complete Skills, Talent and Knowledge Strategy document can be accessed at gov.mb.ca/asset_library/en/mbskills/MB-IBG-STK-Report.pdf.
Published in Volume 75, Number 20 of The Uniter (March 3, 2021)