Canada’s colleges contend that they have an important role to play in rebuilding Canada’s COVID-damaged economy – but they need some help to do so adequately.
In late-November, in conjunction with the federal government’s release of its fall economic update, Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) released a new white paper outlining the essential role that colleges, institutes, polytechnics and cegeps can play to support Canada’s economic recovery.
CICan is the advocacy organization of Canada’s publicly-supported colleges, institutes, cegeps and polytechnics, and an international leader in education for employment with ongoing programs in over 25 countries.
“Colleges and institutes are ideally placed to support Canadians and help their communities recover in the months ahead,” noted CICan President and CEO Denise Amyot. “Through their deep commitment to respond to the evolving innovation and skills development needs of local stakeholders and employers, they are poised to support a strong and sustainable economic recovery.”
The report – entitled “COVID-19 and Beyond: The Role of Colleges and Institutes in Canada’s Resilient Recovery” – pointed out that “over 95 percent of Canadians live within 50 kilometres of a college or institute. With their extensive footprint, these institutions reach Canadians where they live, offering programs tailored to the needs of people, businesses and communities all across the country.”
According to the report, among the economic-recovery tasks which colleges could contribute to are:
• skills training and retraining, and “upskilling”;
• assisting businesses with college-based applied research;
• fostering the green economy through training and research.
HELP NEEDED TO ACHIEVE THOSE GOALS
The report coupled its portrayal of possible college contributions with a call for bolstered government support of the educational system.
That section of the report included these recommendations:
Support reskilling and upskilling to get Canadians back to work and address employers’ skills shortages through:
• an accessible, responsive training allowance that adequately covers training and prior learning assessment and recognition costs;
• renewed Employment Insurance program to increase access to training for unemployed, self-employed and gig workers;
• increased apprenticeship training and internship opportunities;
• green skills modules for technical/trades training to support climate change adaptation and mitigation in key industries.
Boost Canada’s technical/trades training capacity by strengthening online delivery for college programs through:
• $1.4 billion to upgrade colleges’ digital infrastructure, technology and cybersecurity systems;
• integrate simulation and virtual/augmented reality in hands-on courses;
• provide digital support services for student success;
• $50 million to develop over 1,000 shared online resources for technical/trades programs, available on a collaborative platform.
Improve access to postsecondary education for vulnerable and low-income Canadians through:
• funding increases for Indigenous programs;
• extending special Canada Student Loans and Grants provisions; and
• covering costs for computer equipment and internet access required for online learning.
Invest $165 million over two years in the College and Community Innovation Program (CCIP) to maintain college applied research capacity to help businesses and communities survive the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and pivot as the economy re-opens:
• $80 million in the capacity of college applied research offices and centres to help business and community partners de-risk changes to their operations through market research, problem-solving, testing and prototype development;
• $85 million to offer rapid-response grants, reduced company leverage requirements, support for digital adoption for small- and medium-sized enterprises and retooled applied research facilities to support partner needs and comply with physical distancing requirements.
Support a green and inclusive recovery through a $5 billion stimulus investment in college infrastructure to make campuses more sustainable and accessible, advance innovation and improve learning spaces for Indigenous students.
Accelerate sustainability initiatives at colleges and in communities by investing $50M in a national network of sustainability offices.
AS IT TURNED OUT ...
As it turned out, colleges did obtain some additional support from the federal government through the funding initiatives announced in the fall economic update.
CICan cited the funding of “$1.3 billion over two years, for measures targeted at young Canadians, students and vulnerable populations to help them develop the skills they need to succeed.”
Specifically, the organization noted the federal allocation of $575.3 million “for the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy to support approximately 43,500 job placements.
“Colleges and institutes across the country are also poised to support specific measures helping women, newcomers, persons with disabilities and Indigenous people access training opportunities,” a CICan media release noted.
The organization also praised the federal “commitment to eliminate interest on Canada Student Loans and Canada Apprentice Loans for 2021-2022 ... (It) will also go a long way in supporting Canadian students and helping graduates launch their career in these uncertain times. Support for 120,000 job placements through the Canada Summer Jobs program will also help create valuable opportunities.”
CICan also welcomed the government’s investment of $420 million for measures such as grants and bursaries for students studying Early Childhood Education, and $38.5 million over two years to train up to 4,000 Personal Support Worker interns through an accelerated program.
It also commended “the government’s ongoing efforts to support broadband connectivity across the country. There remains an acute need for infrastructure funding to support postsecondary institutions and the communities they serve.”
The organization was critical of the fact that the fall economic statement “includes only very limited funding for innovation and applied research, which continues to be a priority for colleges and institutes across Canada. Leveraging these resources to boost Canadian innovation is especially important for small- and medium-sized enterprises, which have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and will need to innovate to adapt to our new normal.”