Canada’s last federal election was won on the issue of post-secondary education. The New Education Party (or NEDP) gained resounding support from across the country for its bold idea to reallocate a significant proportion of the money that had been going to public universities in Canada to a national system of apprenticeships. The new, national, system of apprenticeships included apprenticeships not only in areas traditionally associated with apprenticeships–basically “the trades”–but also in various professions for which university previously was de rigueur–including law, accounting, insurance, and educational administration.
Yes, one could now become even a lawyer in Canada without having to first navigate through an intellectual battlefield, with members of the academic left and right pitted against each other–in a war that wasn’t a Canadian war–to obtain a law degree and a prerequisite undergraduate degree. In announcing the new apprenticeships that replaced university training, our new Minister of Labour and Postsecondary Education had stated, “University isn’t for everyone.” Coming from the Minister, who was young enough to have personally been caught in the crossfire when she was doing her BA and her law degree, most Canadians–and nearly all of them of typical university age, in their twenties and thirties–realized this wasn’t a put-down of those who opted for an apprenticeship in law. Far from it.
Yes, there was a resounding hue and cry from universities across the land when the cutbacks to universities were first announced. When universities in turn announced that they would have to triple tuition fees in a wide range of programs offered at their universities if these programs were to be preserved, many current and potential future enrollees in such programs joined their professors in protest, and others just cried, period. Very few students, or potential students, of the natural and applied sciences were in these groups, however. Concurrent with its announcement of cutbacks to universities, and the expansion of apprenticeships, the NEDP announced a significant scholarship and bursary program for financially needy university students in university programs that prepared students for work in areas that, based on national human resources data, required qualified people. Financially needy students of the natural and applied sciences were eligible for this financial assistance. (According to a report from CIBC World Markets released in December 2012, there were more than 300,000 open job vacancies in Canada that required special technical or post-secondary education, a large proportion of which required so-called STEM skills: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.)
Eventually, however, most of the dissenting students and potential students, and the crybabies, realized that, in the long-run, they might be better off with this new post-secondary education system. Even though the new, high, tuition fees deterred them from pursuing university degrees in the humanities and social sciences, they could still pursue their interests in these areas in their own time–including through the various on-line, relatively inexpensive or in some cases even free, not-for-credit, university courses that were now available. (Such courses also were likely to be less fractious than for-credit university courses in the humanities and social sciences.)
The professors who lost their jobs due to the cutbacks, or who had their university responsibilities, and their salaries, significantly reduced due to the cutbacks weren’t as easily placated. There were new employment opportunities in on-line education for some of those with an interest in teaching, and others that were more research-oriented found employment with private research institutions, or with government or business. Some that were near retirement age retired early–and took up blogging to fill the time. Many of the younger ones, who expected to be working for many years to come, and who needed jobs during those many years that were at least somewhat interesting and paid enough to keep the wolf away from the door, applied for apprenticeships for one of the occupations in which there were job vacancies.
If you’re sceptical about my report on the current state of Canadian post-secondary education, you have every right to be. I’ve made this all up–although I did borrow liberally from recent, real, developments in Great Britain, including the announcement last month by Matthew Hancock, Britain’s Minister for Skills, about an expanded apprenticeship program, including apprenticeships leading to qualifying as a lawyer! (Many years ago, I applied to law school, and was accepted, but chose to do graduate work in education instead. If an apprenticeship in law had been available to me back then, it’s very likely I would have chosen that path.)