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BC Election Series: Post-Secondary Education and Innovation in the Party Platforms

This is the fourth in a series of policy staff blogs on the platforms released by the three main parties contesting the current BC election: the BC Liberals, the NDP, and the Greens.

For a cross-platform comparison of the three parties' election commitments, check out our summary document.

 

Blog 4: Post-Secondary Education and Innovation in the Party Platforms

By Kristine St-Laurent and Jock Finlayson

Providing the next generation with opportunities to acquire the right skills contributes to stronger economic and productivity growth and should be a top-of-mind goal for incoming decision-makers.  All three parties contesting the May 9 election have made promises regarding post-secondary education and innovation. Below we look at the most significant ones.   

In Budget 2017, the BC Liberals earmarked $2.6 billion in capital spending for new post-secondary buildings and infrastructure renewal. The other parties take this as a baseline.  The NDP platform proposes another $155 million over three years for “tackling student debt and investing in post-secondary education” (p. 95), although no specific capital spending projects are mentioned. The Greens’ priorities on capital spending are in the areas of public transit and affordable housing; no new capital funding appears to be set aside specifically for post-secondary infrastructure.

The Liberal and NDP platforms promise to scale up talent in the tech sector and other STEM-related areas (science, technology, engineering and math). Coupled with the refreshed #BCTech Strategy, the Liberals aim to increase the number of graduates in technology-related fields by 1,000 per year by 2022 and by another 1,000 thereafter. New seats will be funded with $120 million over three years (p. 15).  Plans are underway to double tech-related degree program co-ops to 1,400 placements, and the Mitacs’[1] student research program will be expanded to over 800 internships. The Liberals also propose to allocate $20 million to support life science research and create a BC Science and Technology Chairs Program.

The NDP pledges $100 million to expand technology-related post-secondary programs (p. 35) and develop talent in “information and communications, digital media and entertainment, life sciences and health, IT and engineering and more.” An additional, unspecified amount will go towards increasing tech-sector co-op programs in universities and colleges.  A new priority for the NDP will be to hire a Chief Talent Officer responsible for guiding government’s efforts to attract and retain talent in the high technology sector (p. 69).  It is not clear to what extent the Chief Talent Officer would act as a liaison between government, industry and post-secondary institutions.

The Greens take a more general approach to developing talent and propose non-sector specific investments of $20 million per year to enhance business leadership skills among post-secondary students (p. 16), and another $65 million to support co-op and work experience programs.  It is unclear whether the Greens intend to target certain sectors or if these investments are designed to support post-secondary students across a broad mix of programs.

Source:  Conference Board of Canada, PSE Skills for a Prosperous British Columbia (2016).
 

For some students, getting a higher education and upgrading skills can only be obtained with scholarships and bursaries. The NDP promise $50 million over two years to support a new graduate student scholarship fund; this is in line with a recommendation from the Business Council in our 2016 white paper on innovation and productivity.[2]  Other NDP student aid promises include an unspecified tuition cap, the elimination of interest on student loans, and a new $1,000 completion grant for graduates of college, university and trades programs (p. 11).  

To increase the affordability of post-secondary education, the Greens want to introduce “needs-based” grants and offer “tax forgiveness” of up to $2,000 a year on student loans for up to five years (p. 13).  The Liberals plan to increase post-secondary education student aid by lowering the interest rate on student loans to prime and maintaining a 2% cap on tuition and fee increases. 

   Employment Growth Rates and Changes in the BC Labour Market, 2000-15
  Low-Skilled
High School or Less
 Skilled
Post-secondary Education
Occupations

-2 per cent
Fell from 717,200 to 701,900

+32 per cent
Rose from 1,224,900 to 1,616,800

New labour market supply  -5 per cent
Fell from 799,200 to 762,400
 +33 per cent
Rose from 1, 299,130 to 1,722,127
Real wages
(constant 2015 dollars)
+ 11 per cent
Rose from $18.25 to $20.32
+ 10 per cent
Rose from $23.89 to $26.38
Source:  Conference Board of Canada, PSE Skills for a Prosperous British Columbia (2016).

 

BC is home to respected post-secondary institutions and innovative employers; more can be done to strengthen collaboration between the two.  To advance ongoing research initiatives in the area of climate change, the Greens pledge to invest $120 million to strengthen partnerships between industry, academic institutions and government to support research, development, and the commercialization of climate-friendly technologies. The NDP would partner with post-secondary institutions and business to build local innovation centres throughout the province. The Liberals also plan to strengthen cross-sectoral partnerships through the creation of an Innovation Network between 25 BC post-secondary institutions and industry, led by UBC President Santa Ono. The Liberal platform also speaks of collaborating with the federal government to grow national innovation clusters – another key recommendation[3] in the Business Council’s 2016 innovation white paper.

Employers and post-secondary institutions would both gain from a greater focus on fostering effective cross-sectoral partnerships.  Among the benefits from business-PSE partnerships, one immediately comes to the forefront: innovation.  Improved communication between partner organizations, coupled with strong academic research and cutting-edge industry R&D, can help to create a better environment for innovation, commercialization, firm growth and the development of local talent.  Setting BC on this path requires policymakers to turn their attention to enhancing human capital and accelerating productivity growth in an era of digital disruption. Thoughtful policies and a strong funding base for the higher education sector must be a key part of this agenda.

The Business Council is encouraged to see that all three parties put a significant emphasis on strengthening post-secondary education and recognize the importance of stimulating innovation and continuing to grow BC’s advanced technology clusters. 



[1] Mitacs is a national, not-for-profit organization that delivers research and training programs in Canada. The Mitacs research internship program is designed to increase deployment of highly educated graduates into the private sector. For more details, please visit https://www.mitacs.ca/en.