Re-imagining post-secondary education: Opening to Learning Conference focuses on progressive alternatives

When it was first proposed by convention delegates, the concept of a major conference on post-secondary education was envisioned as a way to begin changing the public debate on post-secondary education policy by bringing together a broad spectrum of faculty, community and student voices to hear how our institutions have changed.  On January 24, 2015 FPSE convened just such an event and, in doing so, has set the stage for advancing major campaign efforts over the next year.
As the name implies, the Opening to Learning Conference focused on how post-secondary educators can become more effective advocates for improved access to our colleges, universities and institutes.  The combination of chronic under-funding and ever increasing tuition fees along with diminished support services to students have raised the barriers to thousands of students who want and need post-secondary education, but who find their access restricted by these new constraints.

But conference attendees heard that the policy and funding shifts are not the only source of concern for post-secondary educators.  In his keynote address at the opening of the conference, Professor Gary Rhoades, from the University of Arizona, talked about some of the over-arching conditions that faculty face, conditions that have undermined employment security and adversely affected the learning experience of students in the process.  While Professor Rhoades noted that the most regressive examples of these multi-decade trends are found in the United States, his concern was that these trends, like so many other social and economic policy shifts, “are moving northward”. Professor Rhoades' Power Point slides can be found below and video of his presentation will be available on our site shortly.

Following Professor Rhoades were Jim Soles, a former Assistant Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Advanced Education and Jim Reid, President of BC Colleges, the consortium that speaks for college Presidents in BC.  Jim Soles presentation chronicled the arch of post-secondary education policy in BC over the last sixty years, a period in which there has been enormous expansion, but also one in which the shift over the last decade and a half in priority has moved against the principle of access.  Jim Reid talked about the important role that post-secondary institutions play in BC and how that potential can be better utilized. Copies of their presentation slides are available below and video will be available soon.

The final two presentations focused on the more immediate concerns: mobilizing to build public support and challenging the current arguments that are used to justify “re-engineering” of post-secondary education in BC.  The issue of mobilization was discussed in detail by Mira Oreck, Director of Outreach and Partnerships at the Broadbent Institute.  Her experience with campaigns in both Canada and the US has sharpened her belief that organizations need to set very clear objectives that resonate with the public.  Following Ms. Oreck was Iglika Ivanova, Director of the Public Interest Research Desk at the CCPA’s BC Office.  Ms. Ivanova’s research showed how affordability and access in BC have been a growing problem.  As well her research showed that despite claims that undergraduate degrees, especially those in the humanities, do not lead to successful employment outcomes, national research shows that employment stability of these grads is significant.

The conference has helped set the stage for the work that FPSE will take on in the coming month.  At bargaining tables across the province, we need to ensure that change in our institutions doesn’t mean the casualization of our work as educators.  In communities and with government we need to ensure that the barriers to access affordable post-secondary learning opportunities are reduced, not increased.  And throughout all of this, we need to continue to speak out as educators about the importance that learning plays in the lives of our students and their communities.  Open to learning will be our critical priority in 2015.

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.