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The province has an opportunity to develop post-secondary programs tailored to Manitoba's economic need as the province rebounds from COVID-19-related disruptions, according to the premier.
"Economic advantages can be achieved by pursuing training when it's needed. For example, we need more nurses and we don't need as many more teachers, yet our institutions are slowly moving in a manner that means we have to adjust," Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday, during a virtual press conference. Pallister did not expand further on what program adjustments the province foresees.
The premier has made clear his government’s intentions of revamping higher education to better prepare students for jobs since he was re-elected in September; critics, however, say universities do more than equip students to be workforce-ready.
The latest comments come after it was revealed the province has created a one-time $25.6-million "transitional support fund" for post-secondary schools to reimburse them after asking institutions to find millions in savings to be redirected to the front-line COVID-19 response. (The fund is the equivalent of the savings that were found and a one per cent reduction in post secondary institutes’ operating budgets.)
According to the letters sent out to schools, the funds will be provided to help institutions respond to "new economic and social realities,"; schools will be required to outline plans to apply for assistance.
Economic Development and Training Minister Ralph Eichler did not provide an interview Wednesday. The minister’s office said the province will work with schools to develop plans to enhance online learning, accommodate enrolment changes and align programming to meet labour market demands.
"Important power skills employers tell us are needed in the workplace such as critical thinking, problem solving and communication, must be connected to work during (students’ general degree) studies to facilitate a quicker connection to employers upon completion," Deputy Minister Jan Forster wrote in the letter to schools.
The creation of the fund surprised academics and administrators alike — among them, Université de Saint-Boniface President Sophie Bouffard.
Bouffard told the Free Press USB is eligible to receive a total of $171,000 in funding, which would make up for the one per cent reduction in its 2020-21 operating grant. Meantime, with international enrolment projected to plummet, Bouffard said the French-language university is projecting a budget shortfall of at least $600,000.
"The challenges are numerous and funding is just one of them," she said, adding the university is grappling with how to provide high-quality courses and support services in autumn.
While the province published a general template of the letters sent to universities and colleges, it’s unclear exactly how much each institution is eligible for. Brandon University confirmed it was informed it would be able to apply for as much as $376,000.
— With files from Carol Sanders
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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