Last week’s federal budget promises to reinforce the work Red River College is doing to provide more opportunities for future students and faculty, says RRC President Stephanie Forsyth.
Overall, RRC welcomes the collaborative approach outlined in the budget, which envisions two levels of government, post-secondary education institutions, labour and industry working together to help address the Canadian skills shortage. Both the Association of Community Colleges of Canada (ACCC) and Polytechnics Canada have also welcomed these announcements, particularly because they’ve been advocating for this type of investment and focus in skills development.
One of the highlights of the budget was a proposed Canada Job Grant, a $500-million investment in 2014-15 to connect employers with prospective employees and invest in their education. Early information suggests a potential student could be eligible for a $15,000 grant paid for with equal contributions from employers and the federal and provincial governments.
As Forsyth points out, many programs at RRC have a waiting list ratio of up to four students for every one currently attending. At first glimpse, the Canada Jobs Grant would help train more students, though collaboration from all parties would be required.
“This proposed grant is dependent upon all three parties bringing money to the table, so it is far from certainty,” she said last week. “Working closely with industry, the private sector and community organizations is a particular strength of RRC. If this collaborative model comes to pass, it will hopefully help us leverage this strength to engage more students and meet the needs of industry.”
Another budget highlight involved the expansion of the College and Community Innovation (CCI) program by an additional $12 million per year, increasing funds available to colleges and polytechnics to $50 million annually.
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) eligibility is a requirement to access this funding, and as Forsyth points out, RRC has been building on the applied research foundation initiated in 2004. In addition to establishing an applied research department, RRC has taken a systematic approach to building research capacity through its Research Centres, and this year created research chair positions and hired additional professionals.
“We have actively sought support for projects that reflect industry and community needs, provide enhanced learning opportunities for our students, and engage the expertise of our faculty and industry partners,” said Forsyth. “Last year, for example, we received $1.7 million over five years in CCI funding for our Technical Access Centre (TAC) proposal for the Advanced Aerospace Innovation Initiative — the largest grant to be awarded to a college in Canada. With increased funding dollars in this area, RRC is well-positioned to seek even more funding.”
The budget also earmarked $10 million over two years for scholarships to support First Nations and Inuit students pursuing post-secondary studies, and identified a focus on job opportunities for marginalized groups — including youth, newcomers, Aboriginals, and those with disabilities — through an investment of $222 million per year.
“Creating more opportunities for Aboriginal students and students with disabilities is a sound strategy to help address the skills shortage in Manitoba,” said Forsyth. “This funding is a potential resource for us to build upon the great work of our School of Indigenous Education and other departments that have been successful in engaging Aboriginal students.”
Other important initiatives in the federal budget include a component in the Building Canada Fund that identifies post-secondary infrastructure, and an additional investment of $10 million over two years to market Canadian education internationally.
The leadership of ACCC is pleased with the federal budget. James Knight, ACCC President and CEO, said last week, “Federal commitments in Budget 2013 will encourage a reduction in barriers to Canada’s economic success, while maximizing the talents and advanced skills of Canadians. Virtually every opportunity that we suggested for addressing the skills shortage has been embraced in this budget.”
Similar comments came from Polytechnics Canada, quoted last week as being “delighted with today’s federal budget that recognizes the key role its member institutions play in fostering innovation, creating high-quality jobs and supporting targeted apprentice training.”
Special thanks to RRC students Mike Hudson, Collin McDougall and Christine Goswell, plus welding instructor Shylyte Bloodworth, who took part in interviews with CBC TV about the need for skilled labour in Manitoba. Click here to see their interviews, which begin at 3:10 of the video.)