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Ignatieff’s vision for postsecondary education

January 12, 2010

With parliament prorogued for a couple of months, Official Leader of the Opposition Michael Ignatieff is on tour, talking to Canadians, trying to improve his Stephane Dion-like popularity ratings. Yesterday, he addressed a group at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Not surprisingly, given his academic background, he expounded at length when asked about his vision for post-secondary education under an Ignatieff-led government. These comments come thanks to Keith Lehwald, who attended and provides an interesting blow-by-blow account on his blog.

So what would Iggy allegedly do?

  • he would replace lump-sum transfers to provinces with a fixed post-secondary transfer (yeah, right… He’d find out pretty quickly that unified provinces angry about federal encroachment in their responsibilities would make the Harper conservatives pale  in comparison).
  • Ignatieff sees universities as economic engines, especially for economically-challenged regions like the maritimes (does that mean he’ll establish new universities in northern Ontario, rural Quebec, and the north?).
  • He suggested his government would encourage students to split their studies between universities in different parts of the country. He admitted he’s not sure how it would be done, though students could be “incentivized” to do so (I think most people call that “bribery”, not “incentivization”. This is a crazy idea. Sure, it’s cute on paper to imagine a student from Université du Quebec à Chicoutimi spending two years studying at the University of Victoria – imagine the boost to national unity! – but practically speaking, it’s a nightmare. Students are already hard-pressed to finish their graduate studies in a timely fashion, and now they’re going to spend a couple of years gallivanting about seeing the country? And they’re going to be supported in this by their supervisors? and their departments? Right).
  • most intriguingly, Ignatieff allegedly suggested his government would create a national Ministry of Research. This ministry would be responsible for administering federal grants and would be charged with encouraging cross-province collaboration between academic researchers. (this has the potential to be really game-changing, ensuring a strong cabinet voice for Canadian research and serving as a signifier that Canada places research at the heart of its political and economic vision. On the other hand, it is probably more likely to end up as a colossally expensive bureaucratic boondoggle that will change little but will become a black hole for funding that might otherwise have gone to the tri-council, for instance).

The students at Dalhousie thanked Ignatieff with the standard issue t-shirt, but with a case of Nova Scotia’s pride which, to be honest, Ignatieff might have been drinking when he came up with a few of these suggestions.

Craziness notwithstanding, at least Ignatieff is out there, talking about education and research. Perhaps the ideas are still in gestational form, and will be fully developed by the time he’s finished his national tour and government resumes (assuming, of course, PM Harper deigns to let Parliament reconvene some day…).

2 Comments leave one →
  1. anon permalink
    January 13, 2010 00:16

    Rob, an interesting link indeed.

    Your take is much more negative than mine. I don’t see any suggestions to introduce new Universities. As for students spending time at different schools, I doubt the plan revolves around coercing unproductive travel. On the other hand, would it be bad for the feds to introduce a travel award which helps grad students to work with supervisors when they are on sabbatical leave at another Canadian school?

    I’m happy to see him take an interest in Universities. Maybe the ideas are not in their final form. Good. That gives a chance to provide some constructive suggestions.


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