Much of the HESA staff was in Fredericton last week at the annual meeting of the Canadian Institutional Research and Planning Association where, as usual, a good and informative time was had by all (hat tip to the CIRPA organizing committee).
But something happened there which bothered me quite a bit: namely, a keynote address in which ACCC President Jim Knight began taking gratuitous potshots at the university sector. I’ve been wondering ever since if this was just an off-night for him, or a sign of a potentially very damaging split in the post-secondary lobbying world.
In the main, Knight’s talk was competent if not especially exciting. The aim of the speech was to list off the challenges the country was facing in terms of growth and social inclusion, and how he thought the post-secondary sector in general and colleges in particular could rise to meet these challenges – pretty standard Ottawa stuff, really.
Where things got a bit dicey was when Knight decided, in the midst of a very relevant discussion about the need for the sector to prove its “relevance” to government, to go on a tangent about how the university community really needed to wake up and smell the coffee on the relevance issue because, while colleges could prove themselves supremely relevant by churning out job-ready graduates, universities, well, you know…
This kind of talk really isn’t helpful. Colleges and universities each have their roles to play in equipping the country’s population with the skills to thrive in the modern economy. Both sectors do very well by international standards, and we have reason to be proud of both. No doubt each sector has its strengths and weaknesses, and that the rapid on-going shifts in the world of work pose significant challenges to graduates of specific programs in both sectors.
But what on earth is to be gained by one sector pointing the finger at the other and claiming superiority?
I’m really hoping this was just a bad night out for Mr. Knight. Because if this is actually a strategy, if ACCC really thinks the path to success in the new political and economic environment is to get their elbows up and start jostling with the university sector, then both sectors are in trouble.
Good things happen when the community sends positive, co-operative messages to the public. Bad things happen when it doesn’t. Simple as that.