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CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 1997

The Big Picture

What does your party see as the most important issues facing higher education leading up to the year 2000?


The Liberal government respects provincial jurisdiction in the field of education. It recognizes, however, the importance of investing in knowledge as a means of promoting economic growth and job creation in the global economy of the 21st century. It is only through knowledge, information and ideas that new products and services will be created. Investing in knowledge means adopting a broader notion of infrastructure. We must take this term beyond its traditional meaning, to include the components of future economic success — post-secondary education, knowledge, and innovation, for example. These are the building blocks of the new wealth of nations and it is in this infrastructure as well that governments must invest.

Several measures in the 1997 Budget reflect the Liberal government’s commitment to post-secondary education. These measures included improvements to the Canada Student Loans Program, tax relief to assist students and their families with the increasing costs of post-secondary education, and the establishment of the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

New Democrats

Canada’s NDP sees affordability and accessibility to world class teaching and research institutions as the most important priorities for higher education. The Liberal Government’s cuts to the CHST have led to higher tuition fees, excluding many talented young Canadians from the opportunities of a higher education, and have compromised the ability of colleges and universities to maintain their high standards of research and teaching.

Progressive Conservatives

The global economy is shifting away from manufacturing, and is increasingly based on services and information. These industries demand constant flexibility as new ideas and technologies keep emerging, and their employees must be prepared to keep learning new skills and acquiring more specialized knowledge every day. The experts call it "the knowledge economy" and agree that opportunity and prosperity in the future will depend on peoples learning opportunities and abilities.

Unfortunately, Canada today seems ill-prepared to meet these challenges. Canadian students place near the bottom in comparisons with other OECD countries in key areas such as mathematics and science. This knowledge gap threatens to rob our youth of their chance to compete in the international marketplace of ideas and jobs. The problem does not appear to be a lack of money (we pay the most per capita for education of virtually any country in the world), but a lack of priorities and standards. We must stop measuring success by the amount of money spent, and measure instead by the results achieved.


Canadian universities must deal with several issues, each of which relates to the ongoing revolution in information technology.

There will be a tremendous increase in the ability of potential students to gain access to the resources of the universities, from library and archive materials to on-line lecture notes and televised or electronically transmitted lectures. This will cause a rise in demand for these resources. However, the ease with which potential users of these resources may now "shop around" between institutions will cause greater competition, and universities will be forced to provide a higher quality of service than has ever been necessary before. In such an environment, if Canadian universities are able to become more competitive, they will be able to gain a world-wide clientele. If they fail to keep up, they will be driven out of business.

Similar changes will take place on the research side of universities (except that the effects of greater interaction and competition between institutions is already much further advanced in research).