Private sector partnerships key for universities: McNeil

Student accessibility and collaboration between universities and the private sector are important for growth, says the province’s Liberal party leader

Liberal leader Stephen McNeil. Photo: Ken Wallingford

The Nova Scotia Liberals want to foster more partnerships between universities and the private sector if they form the next government.

That was the message hammered home by Liberal opposition leader Stephen McNeil in an exclusive interview with UNews.ca.

“Where I think we differ is really looking at universities as an asset — one that you invest in and cultivate, and how you collaborate from the private sector to public sector to make those things reach their full potential.”

McNeil, a Nova Scotia Community College graduate, said the NDP hasn’t recognized the opportunities for research and development between universities and the private sector.

“I don’t think the NDP government has recognized the economic component associated with [universities],” said McNeil. “As our economy transitions, it will be the educational capital we have as a province that will set us apart from other areas and allow us to grow the economy.”

A survey released by Corporate Research Associates in September shows McNeil and the Liberal Party leading in support among decided voters with 41 per cent. Darrell Dexter and the NDP stand at 31 per cent, while Jamie Baillie and the Progressive Conservative Party sit with 22 per cent.

While the Liberals have yet to articulate their election platform, McNeil said his government would view post-secondary education as an asset.

“If it’s an asset to us, we would obviously be investing in it,” he said.

But he wouldn’t specifically say if a Liberal government would reverse the NDP government’s three per cent cap on tuition increases, its reduction in transfers to universities or boost the overall investment in post-secondary education.

McNeil also wants the Ottawa to change the formula which determines university funding transfers. The federal government currently transfers money to universities based on a student’s province of birth, not where a student is educated.

“We as a province are a net importer of students and benefit greatly from that. And that money should be used on a number of things, particularly to offset the cost of tuition.”

McNeil acknowledged student debt as a challenge for Nova Scotia students, and the cost of tuition a barrier to accessibility.

Many families in this province are living, raising children on less than $40,000 a year. And yet, when you’re a young person looking to go to university, recognizing your student debt could be more than your family income, it’s hard to comprehend.”

He said the NDP’s graduated tax credit program sounds wonderful, but it ignores student accessibility.

“You can have all the tax credits in the world, but if you can’t get a job, it’s no good.”

On the topic of jobs, McNeil said the NDP hasn’t done enough to create meaningful, well-paying employment for university graduates. He said the government should look for ways to access industries and create incentives for employers to hire new graduates.

“Treat universities as the asset they are. Look at the private sector to be the job generator — and you do that by linking the two of them.”

Fewer and fewer Nova Scotians are making up the demographic of the province’s universities. McNeil said this could be a result of seeing graduates struggling to find jobs. And he believes the issue boils down to accessibility.

“That’s what we need to stay focused on – accessibility, and make sure we’re not denying young Nova Scotians, young Canadians to attend because of cost.”

But McNeil said a discussion of post-secondary education cost shouldn’t be solely focused on tuition, but also other expenses tied into education such as rent and ancillary fees.

Rising university administration costs

A report by the Association of Nova Scotia University Teachers states university administration spending has increased on average by 27 per cent over the last seven years.

McNeil believes administration spending needs to be brought in line.

“You can’t drive tuition through the roof to offset high cost of administration,” he said.

Stephen McNeil discusses how a Liberal government would increase accessibility for students. Photo: Ken Wallingford

When asked whether or not government should set limits on administrative costs, McNeil said the Liberals believe setting parameters would be sufficient. Setting too many rules could threaten university autonomy, he said.

“For government to come in and say this is what you must do I think would be a bit heavy handed.”

He also cautioned observers to look at the entire picture.

“Many of these presidents of universities are asked to be more than presidents of universities. They’re fundraising millions and millions of dollars.”

Although it hasn’t been announced, experts anticipate provincial party leaders are gearing up for an election in the new year. The NDP don’t need to announce an election until 2014.

 

See below for a condensed video of the interview with Stephen McNeil. Click on a question to go directly to that part of the interview. (Video: Ken Wallingford)

Questions

  1. How has your approach to secondary education changed since the last election?
  2. How do you view the NDP’s approach to post-secondary education funding?
  3. What would the NDP need to do to rectify this?
  4. Dexter pointed to debt caps, zero interest, and tax credits to put students ahead. What do you make of that?
  5. What would your government do to increase accessibility for students who may not be able to afford post-secondary education?
  6. Do you think the Nova Scotia student bursary program needs to be reformed?
  7. Do you think the government should become involved in setting limits for university administration cost?