NORTHERN COMMUNITIES AND STUDENTS NEED MORE SUPPORT FOR POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION
February 6th, 2012
TERRACE – Colleges that provide the education and training to support economic growth in northern communities are being left behind by the Liberals, say the New Democrats.
“The Liberals’ natural gas strategy announced at BCIT last week included no meaningful training component and came at the same time the Northwest Community College was delivering layoff notices to more than 30 members of its staff,” said New Democrat advanced education critic Michelle Mungall after touring the Northwest Community College Terrace campus.
“Not only does this mean northern British Columbians are losing their jobs, but students are worried about what kind of programming will be available to them."
After a decade of cuts under the Liberal government, NWCC, Northern Lights College and the College of New Caledonia are all projecting deficits of over $1.6 million this year. As a result, NWCC is faced with having to now lay off instructors.
Mungall says that since 2009, NWCC, which serves nine regional campuses in 34 communities, has seen an annual capital budget decrease of 74 per cent – a point that has been raised by her colleagues, North Coast MLA Gary Coons, Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson and Skeena MLA Robin Austin. All three MLAs are very concerned about training and post-secondary education in their communities and want to see the Liberals better support the region's need for job training.
“I’ve spoken with students, instructors and administrators who are rightly concerned that they will not be prepared to build sustainable careers in the north with program cuts and declining enrollment at their colleges,” said Mungall, the MLA for Nelson-Creston.
NWCC, where over 50 per cent of students are Aboriginal, is also uncertain that it will be able to continue to offer programs. The award-winning School of Exploration and Mining program lacks the core funding to make its future programing sustainable. And the Aboriginal Mine Training Association, which works closely with this program, is about to lose its federal operating grant at the end of March, and no future funding has been promised by the Liberal government.
“The Liberals claim that addressing First Nations unemployment is key in addressing the overall labour shortage in B.C.,” said Mungall. “However, we see NWCC’s ability to serve First Nations communities compromised, and the Minister has yet to speak with students or about the issue.”
The B.C. business community ranks one of its top concerns as a shortage of skilled, highly knowledgeable workers. A cross-section of leaders from forestry, high-tech, and energy industries have warned of a labour crunch within the next two years that threatens to postpone projects and investment.
Adrian Dix and the New Democrats believe that post-secondary education is a priority and would reinstate a needs-based grant program for postsecondary students to replace the one eliminated by the Liberals in 2004.