2014 CUFA-BC Academic of the Year awarded to Michael J. Prince

Michael J. Prince, UVic's Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy, received the 2014 CUFA-BC Academic of the Year Award on April 23. Visit uvic.ca/news for UVic's official announcement.

What follows are excerpts from Dr. Prince's speech—“Enabling Transitions: Post-Secondary Education and Gainful Employment for Young People with Disabilities”—given upon acceptance of his award this month.


Enabling Transitions: Post-Secondary Education and Gainful Employment for Young People with Disabilities

I’d like to speak about my recent work in policy and practice with disability organizations.

I want to do so in relation to the principle—supported by the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC—that anyone who can benefit from post-secondary education should be able to try and attain it.

The current status of youth with disabilities

So, what is the situation of youth with disabilities in Canada? For the past quarter century, social surveys have consistently confirmed that Canadians with disabilities remain one of the most undereducated and unemployed groups in Canada. We know that the average educational attainment for people with disabilities is lower than for people without disabilities: people with disabilities are much more likely to have high school education or less. In addition, a lower proportion of youth with disabilities are graduates from a community college, technical institute or public university. 

Young people with disabilities are more likely than their counterparts to be in non-standard jobs; to be underemployed; to be without employment; and to be in poverty.

Looking at employment, we find that a higher proportion of youth with disabilities, who are not full time students, are more likely to hold multiple jobs in a year; they are more likely to have jobs unrelated to their education; they are more likely to not be working or attending school; and, they are more likely to live in low income households.

Policy and practice landscape

The aim is to secure meaningful work experiences and paid employment while the young person with a disability is in high school.

Challenges exist across the country in identifying available jobs and having readily accessible transportation, especially in rural and small communities. Challenges exist, certainly in BC for school districts right now facing the distressing prospect of reductions in special education assistants, speech language pathologists, and other supports for students with special needs.

Public programs for Canadians with disabilities are a disjointed patchwork of practices with uneven accessibility. Nowhere is this more evident than in programs for youth with disabilities. Transition planning and employment preparation for youth with disabilities are insufficient and ineffective in many parts of Canada.

Unintentionally, the focus of teachers or school administrators may be on what the young person cannot do because of their impairment instead of on what they might do, or, on what they could be able to do, in a setting with appropriate support. The resulting alternatives are to stay at home, go on provincial social assistance, attend a day program, or perhaps a sheltered workshop.

Reform ideas for better transitions

What are some reform ideas to better enable transitions to post-secondary education and employment for young people with disabilities? This goal requires closer co-operation and new investments by provincial governments and school districts in conjunction with the support of local employers, teachers and counsellors, parents and families. Policy development will require changes in the traditional practices of student advising, summer job programs, and of post-secondary institutions.

To promote inclusive learning environments, we need to invest in accessible educational and training facilities; provide a mix of classroom training and work experience; and support longer-term programming rather than just short-term activities.

In this regard, provincial governments must play a leadership role by providing accommodation grants to colleges and universities; and by funding direct services and on-site supports for post-secondary students with disabilities.

Under this new theme, [government] ministers could focus on students’ transitions from secondary schools to post-secondary education; financial assistance to both part-time and full-time students with a disability; and examine best practices on inclusive and accessible education at universities.

Our institutions have much to share with one another on this noble goal of inclusive higher education.

It is time that the Canada Social Transfer—the federal funding mechanism for post-secondary education across the country—is given a new policy focus, one suitable to our moment; a new focus in addressing the learning needs of those most vulnerable Canadians.

A new, specific goal of the Canada Social Transfer would be to improve the post-secondary education participation of young men and women with disabilities.

Only then will the commitments Canada signed in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities be realized.

Only then will all youth with disabilities have a reasonable opportunity to access and attain post-secondary education in their province and their country.


[June 5 update] Canadian Public Budgeting in the Age of Crises, which Prince co-authored with Bruce Doern and Allan M. Maslove, recently won the 2014 Donald Smiley Prize for best book in Canadian political science. Described by the Canadian Political Science Association as "a meticulous but also far-reaching analysis" of Canadian budgetary policy, the book combines a thorough historical review with analysis of recent trends on a topic that affects all Canadians.


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Keywords: award, youth, employment, disabilities, community, education

People: Michael J. Prince

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