Economic role for universities is key, says Cassels

Building new programs and expanding capacity in high-demand areas to meet the needs of both students and the new economy is a key role for BC postsecondary institutions, says University of Victoria President Jamie Cassels.

Cassels was speaking to an audience of 160 business leaders in Vancouver April 24 during a panel on “Institutions as Economic Enablers” that was part of the “Putting BC To Work” business forum hosted by the Business Council of BC and CKNW AM980.

“Students are savvy and respond to labour market signals in their choice of programs,” said Cassels, “and the universities have responded.” He cited examples of the creation of new civil and biomedical engineering, health, and information technology and security programs at UVic and the recent 40–80 per cent growth in existing programs at the university such as engineering, business and health. This growth and expansion was, he said, largely accomplished using existing resources, given the freeze on public funding the past four years. Cassels also emphasized the importance of experiential learning to connect students to work experience and career options.

At the same time, said Cassels, in response to a question from moderator Sean Leslie, programs across the liberal arts and sciences continue to be important and valuable. “In the long run” he said, a liberal education continues to lead to excellent outcomes for students.  “It’s not an either/or proposition” he said. “We need it all ... the skilled trades, the professions and the arts and sciences. Individual students need to be offered diverse options so they can find the right pathway to success.”

Post-secondary institutions, government, industry and the K-12 education system need to work closely to support a variety of educational options for students and build better bridges from secondary schools into universities and colleges, and from there into the work force.

Cassels called for more transparent and reliable information to students about program choices and labour market demands, improved outreach to underrepresented populations, and expansion of experiential learning opportunities such as co-op education, work-integrated learning, and internships.

Leslie, CKNW’s legislative bureau chief, also asked Cassels and fellow panellists President Ron Burnett of Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and Dean Rod Goy of BCIT’s School of Construction and the Environment whether post-secondary institutions have enough funding?

Despite recent cutbacks, Cassels said that “the provincial government has made a major investment in post-secondary education over the past 15 years and we’ve seen huge growth in capacity. Our universities are a valuable provincial asset…Could we use more resources? Of course, but our job is to do the best we can with the resources we have.... Sure there are limits to what we can do, in both quantity and quality and we’ve never experienced higher levels of student demand.... The bigger social question is what kind of investment do we want to make in education?”

Cassels also said that UVic’s partnerships with 1,200 co-op employers, program advisory boards, research partnerships are good examples of how the university sector’s relationship with industry is “very good, but it should be and could be even better.”

The forum was the wrap-up event for CKNW’s month-long on-air “Putting BC To Work” initiative and focused on the appropriate roles for business, government and post-secondary educators in collaborating to develop, attract and retain talent for a prosperous future in BC. The forum included a key note address by UVic alumnus and former TD Bank Financial Group senior vice-president and chief economist Don Drummond. The 250-member Business Council of BC is a non-partisan organization made up of 250 leading companies, post-secondary institutions and organizations from across BC’s economy.



Photo: UVic President Jamie Cassels (centre) joined Emily Carr University President Ron Burnett (l) and BCIT Dean Rod Goy (r) in Vancouver April 24  for a discussion about the role of post-secondary institutions in BC’s economy. The session was hosted by the Business Council of BC and CKNW AM980. Photo courtesy of Business Council of BC. Photo: Andrew Hudyma.


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Keywords: economic, Business Council of BC, government, education

People: Jamie Cassels, Sean Leslie

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