Krueger blasts 'fat cat' universities

With looming skills shortage, funding to should go to institutions that focus on trades, MLA says

Kamloops Daily News
January 29, 2013 01:00 AM

Certain B.C. universities have "some gall" asking for funding to avoid a calamitous skills labour shortage predicted for 2016, said Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Kevin Krueger.

The retiring MLA made the comments in response to a call for hundreds of millions of provincial dollars from Research Universities' Council of British Columbia (RUCBC), which represents the six major universities in B.C. including Thompson Rivers University.

Krueger said UBC, SFU and UVic should "settle down a little" and encourage funding for post-secondary schools that are focusing on trades rather than for themselves.

"It's hard to say no to universities that have been there for a long time but they're fat cats compared to the others," said Krueger. "A lot of the things they're training people in and they want to provide are not that much in demand compared to the current economy."

A severe skills shortage will hit B.C. in 2016 unless action is taken now to improve access to all types of post-secondary education, according to a RUCBC analysis of the province's B.C. Labour Market Outlook, B.C. Stats and Statistics Canada.

"British Columbia is well-positioned to compete and win in tomorrow's economy," said TRU president Alan Shaver. "But only through investment in our province's best asset - the skills and abilities of our people."

One million job openings are anticipated in B.C. from 2010 to 2020 with 110,300 of those forecast for the Thompson-Okanagan, according to RUCBC.

"With over 100,000 job openings expected in this region by 2020 it's critical that we are able to sustain our economy by providing a skilled and educated workforce," said Jim Anderson, executive director of Venture Kamloops.

In 2020, approximately 18,800 jobs will go unfilled because British Columbians lack the education and training, states an RUCBC press release.

The group is calling on the province to pony up $130 million over four years for 11,000 new graduate, undergraduate, college and trade programs spaces.

It is also calling for $51 million for expansion of student financial aid to include grants, loan reductions and graduate scholarships.

The universities also want the province to "build on B.C.'s research and innovation potential, advance new opportunities and help drive economic growth through a commitment to stable funding and support for BC's Knowledge Development Fund," according to a press release.

"Acting on these priorities will help put a post-secondary education within reach of all qualified and willing British Columbians," said George Iwama, chair of RUCBC and president of University of Northern British Columbia.

"In today's economy, where people and knowledge are British Columbia's most important assets, post-secondary education is the best investment we can make in our future."

Krueger said he agrees that post-secondary institutions like TRU and UNBC (which also has a strong focus on trades) should get more funding to meet industry needs.

"And I know the government's trying and in fact they have done it in very tangible ways including last week," he said, referring to the $1.39 million for TRU trades program equipment that the province announced on Friday.

But the Lower Mainland is not the place for this investment, he said.

"UBC's motto is Tuum Est. In Latin it means essentially 'It's up to you.' But when they look to government for money it sure isn't up to the students, it's up to the taxpayer."