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A university in name only: The re-engineering of BC education poses a significant threat to scholarship

University, n.

1. a. An institution of higher education offering tuition in mainly non-vocational subjects and typically having the power to confer degrees. Also: the members, colleges, buildings, etc., of such an institution collectively.

— Oxford English Dictionary



By Katie Stobbart (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: October 1, 2014

kristy clark mark evered

University, n.

1. a. An institution of higher education offering tuition in mainly non-vocational subjects and typically having the power to confer degrees. Also: the members, colleges, buildings, etc., of such an institution collectively.

— Oxford English Dictionary

The premier of BC has attended three universities in Canada (SFU), Scotland, and France, yet still doesn’t seem to know what a university is. Then again, perhaps many of us don’t.

For one thing, it’s not a vocational school. The function of a university is not to pump the trades sector with worker bees. To differentiate between it and a trades school requires an understanding of the difference between training and learning — there is one.

To paraphrase the OED definitions, learning is a process whose goal is the acquisition of knowledge and abilities.

Training is a process whose goal is the acquisition of proficiency in occupational skills.

The grey area between the two has been growing for some time in BC’s post-secondary institutions, and the forecast is even cloudier. The function of universities — especially fledgling ones like UFV — is being forcibly moulded by way of fund allocation from learning to fuelling the economic machinations of the provincial government.

According to an article published last month in BC Business, “the government projects it will have earmarked 25 per cent of the $1.9 billion it contributes annually to post-secondary institution operating budgets for programs that lead to high-demand occupations.”

The bulk of those high-demand occupations are related to BC’s blueprint for pipelines, and they’ve created a new blueprint for the education system to manipulate students at both public school and post-secondary levels into trades.

I have nothing against people who want to learn a trade. What I do have a problem with is funding training at the expense of learning. The effect this has on the university, and on our perception of education in general, is that it devalues its focus on learning in favour of a transaction: the government has put in and paid for an order of one million employees, and post-secondary institutions shall provide.

In the same article by BC Business, UFV’s vice-provost Eric Davis is quoted outlining this impact of the government’s push for a focus on trades training.

“The bottom line of the government’s plan is that funding for post-secondary institutions will be based on labour market information and workforce targets, and that institutions will be held accountable to achieving results,” Davis said.

Given what seems to be a governmental disdain for non-vocational study, this is a disturbing trend. By reallocating funding from learning to training, we risk undermining an essential mechanism in our society: the critical voice.

It’s not that a welder or a pipefitter is incapable of criticism, but academic institutions provide — or should provide — a different sort of space in which scholars can ask important questions of the powers that be, and ultimately keep them accountable.

There is absolutely a need for students with an interest in and talent for trades, but the “learners to earners” slogan going around invokes a dystopian vision for education. It implicitly rejects the value of art, advanced literacy, exploratory or theoretical science, sociology, and a number of other worthy pursuits of scholarship.

On the surface, it seems kind of our provincial government to bestow funding on UFV to support expansion of the trades programs it offers. But as we earnestly shake Christy Clark’s hand, thanking the province for its generosity, I recall UFV’s earnestness only a few years ago to achieve its coveted university status.

However, we are apparently less interested in what that designation really means.

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  1. Rajneesh Dhawan

    October 2, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    There is an inherent contradiction in the slogan “Learners to Earners”. Is the government trying to dissociate a person’s learning from his earning potential? This is impossible! A person’s earning capacity is directly related to what he knows. Is Christy Clark trying to suggest that people who study liberal arts are a burden to the society because according to the weird logic presented by her minister Amrik Virk, these learners can never be good earners. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I believe that this is a sinister scheme to rid our youth of their critical and creative thinking faculties and making robots out of them. Another aspect of the government’s weird logic is that the LNG jobs (if there will ever be any such thing) will need people trained in specific skills. What is missing is, that what will happen when these jobs will not be available? The government knows the answer and “therein lies the rub”. These people will be forced to reinvest in education to train for the “next great thing”. So these “earners” will give their earnings back to the government with interest. This scheme is so regressive that even the developing world will mock us for our lack of foresight.

  2. Kyle Andresen

    October 5, 2014 at 7:29 am

    While I think Katie’s article and Rajneesh’s post make good points, I’m offended by the notion that UFV’s trades students are “robots” or “worker bees” any more than academic students. When you receive your designation, it’s up to you how you use it. I am a carpentry apprentice at UFV, and I (along with many other trades students) chose a trade because in the trades I need critical and creative thinking. I chose carpentry because I felt the need to invent and create, not make money. A culture’s trades: the artisans, crafters, chefs and builders, are the backbone of any artistic society. Writing off studying trades as “fuelling economic machinations” is like writing off literature composition as “hoping to make it rich with the next tween novel”. I get that you’re critical of the government’s intentions, so should we all be, but to say I receive “training” at UFV, not “education”, is misinformed.

    -Kyle Andresen, Apprentice of Carpentry

  3. Kodie Cherrille

    October 12, 2014 at 11:50 am


    I appreciate your argument and perspective as a carpentry apprentice. The analogy you make with relegating literature into “the next tween novel” is very thought-provoking and important.

    Being a BA, I am naturally around other BAs more often than not. And generally, we are very frustrated, we feel very downtrodden, we feel very undervalued. A professor recently expressed his rage to me outside of the classroom: He’s afraid that powers-that-be are intentionally dumbing us down. At the least, a “learners to earners” revamp will displace a lot of people like that professor, and like me, who don’t appear to be part of a very specific plan that the BC government seems to be taking its province.

    Reading your comment, I feel like this frustrating sense of displacement is being channelled somewhere it shouldn’t: at the image of honest-working (and thinking) tradespeople.

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