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Margin Notes

A new partnership between universities and colleges


There has always been a bit of friendly competition between Canada’s universities and colleges. I recently read, for example, this quote from Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (which, despite its name, represents Canada’s universities and university degree-level colleges): “Over the last six years, more than twice as many net new jobs were created for university grads than for college and trades grads combined.”

Not so fast! Linda A. Franklin, president and CEO of Colleges Ontario, wrote recently that many students “get the jobs that lead them to good careers after coming back to college and supplementing their university credential with a college one” (emphasis mine). Growing numbers of students and parents feel it is essential that higher education leads to career success, she said, and “that’s why record numbers of students are choosing college.”

This sort of jockeying for position is understandable and expected. However, the back-and-forth did get a bit heated about a year-and-a-half ago over the supposed “skills shortage” in Canada. But, I have noticed that for a while now the associations representing universities and colleges have been using more inclusive language in their pronouncements, stressing that all parts of Canada’s postsecondary education sector have a role to play.

“Regardless of whether at a university, college, institute, polytechnic or cégep, there are many pathways to a great education and career,” said Denise Amyot, president and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada, or CICan (previously known as the Association of Canadian Community Colleges). AUCC’s Mr. Davidson, in the same speech to the Economic Club of Canada I quoted from above, echoed that sentiment, saying that Canada needs “all kinds of postsecondary graduates to build our economy and society – apprentices, colleges and polytechnics, and university.”

There also is much interplay between the systems, a topic I explored in a blog post a couple of years back, “Where does college end and university begin?

I bring all this up as background to an important agreement by AUCC and CICan “to deepen and enhance” their collaborative efforts in the interest of Canada’s postsecondary students. According to a joint press release, this “framework for collaboration” signed in Calgary today by Ms. Amyot and Mr. Davidson “reflects the commitment of universities and colleges across the country to further enhance innovative programs and partnerships that offer Canadian students an effective continuum of choices leading to rewarding careers.” The agreement also signals “new avenues for collaboration by AUCC and CICan in communications, member initiatives and policy dialogue.” Together, AUCC and CICan represent 228 postsecondary institutions serving more than 2.5 million students.

The agreement seems, to me, an obvious recognition that Canada’s postsecondary education sector is stronger when everybody works together. It also reflects the fact that postsecondary education doesn’t happen in discrete silos and that there is already much collaboration between the different levels.

Mike Mahon, president of University of Lethbridge, and David Ross, president of SAIT Polytechnic, co-chaired a working group that laid the groundwork for today’s agreement. Among other things, the framework commits the two associations to advance a set of principles among their member institutions. These include the development of more flexible pathways for students, more collaboration and a greater diversity of joint programs, increased recognition of students’ prior learning, and the reduction of barriers to student mobility. The associations also commit to enhance the collection and sharing of institutional data, where appropriate, especially related to student transfers. It is a welcome initiative.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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