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Investing and supporting the future of New Brunswick

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Dec 9, 2019

Category: UNB Saint John , UNB Fredericton

The following commentary appeared in the Dec. 7, 2019, edition of the Daily Gleaner under the headline “Our universities: a force for good”

In our roles as university presidents of the only publicly funded universities in the province, we are accustomed to being challenged with hard questions. This is as it should be, and we’re justifiably proud of the accomplishments made by our institutions in the service of the public good.

However, serving the public good is a task that is becoming more difficult, despite having real successes to share. The problem is created by an intersection of different trends. One is the emerging ‘audit culture’ where cuts are seen as an end in themselves and where red tape impedes responsive decision making. Low cost starts to matter more than actual effectiveness. A consistent narrative that universities are cost centres, as opposed to investment centres, contributes to this view.

A second trend or factor is the mix of difficult budget decisions facing government and the perception of universities as being somehow separate from society at large. In our view, nothing could be further from the truth. Publicly funded universities play a vital role in helping New Brunswick grow and prosper.

In reality, publicly funded universities in New Brunswick are highly engaged and highly accountable, much more so than commercial profit-driven ‘career colleges’ and more so than many other public sector organizations.

Moreover, the public universities in New Brunswick are delivering real value and outcomes for New Brunswick across many areas – from new graduates who contribute to the skilled labour market, to the commercialization of research funding leading to start-up companies and economic development more generally. The recently established government-funded program FutureNB is another example of real value delivered across the community through universities, with students undertaking impactful experiential learning opportunities in several organizations across the province.

The public universities across New Brunswick are essential parts of the wider economic and sociocultural ecosystem of the province. This is despite the fact that funding for post-secondary education in New Brunswick is the lowest as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) when compared to other Atlantic Provinces, based on a September 2019 report by Alex Usher of Higher Education Strategy Associates.

Public universities in New Brunswick are purpose driven, not profit driven. As a result, we are accountable to our fee-paying students, who have a wealth of alternative choices open to them. The value of their education is demonstrated by employment outcomes in results that are measured by the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Committee (MPHEC), national surveys, and each university’s survey work. We are accountable to the high standards and practices we sustain within our accrediting associations. We are accountable to a Board of Governors, who provide detailed oversight and who bring a wide variety of perspectives to that important job, and we are accountable to the many donors who wish to see the best possible return on their generous investments in our universities. We’re also accountable under legislation through the Select Committee on Public Universities and our respective Acts to the people of New Brunswick for the support they extend through their government.

As university presidents, we can confirm that the risks of an ‘audit culture’ approach to higher education are clear, and imminent. Whether we live in lean places or rich, our universities need to compete for students, research talent, and donors. Our universities must compete globally for students and faculty to fulfill our duty to New Brunswick, to remain institutions committed to access and excellence, and to ensure we continue to offer students an experience that is equal to anywhere else in Canada.

New Brunswick students deserve no less. Likewise, New Brunswickers deserve no less. They deserve innovative, competent and professional health care workers. They deserve teachers, social workers, engineers, law-makers, creative thinkers, business leaders, global citizens and leaders for tomorrow who are the equal of any in Canada.

We need a vision for New Brunswick that attracts newcomers. We need a vision for New Brunswick that fosters entrepreneurs and innovators, with a strong democracy and a strong economy. We need a vision for New Brunswick that presents our children a future that convinces them to stay. We need to offer the world something that attracts attention, admiration, and investment. Describing that vision is a first step. But to achieve it, we need more than cuts. We need to make sufficient and carefully focused strategic investments, or we will fail to reach a better and more secure future for our province.

We need a vision for New Brunswick that supports people, and enables them to work towards a prosperous future. Higher education transforms individuals and communities; it is a force that serves the public good and should be prioritized when we consider fiscal arrangements in New Brunswick.

Paul J. Mazerolle, President, University of New Brunswick
Dawn Russell, President, St. Thomas University
Jean-Paul Boudreau, President, Mount Allison University
Jacques Paul Couturier, Interim President, Université de Moncton