Rae panel consultation phase ends, new challenge begins
There was cause for cautious optimism about the future of higher education in our province December 1. That’s when former premier Bob Rae and his review panel held a town hall meeting on our campus. About 300 Londoners turned out to hear and express views on how to improve Ontario’s post-secondary system. It was particularly encouraging to see so many Western faculty, staff, students and alumni participating in the discussion.
Mr. Rae pulled no punches in his remarks. He acknowledged the system is badly under-funded and that student aid is in critical need of reform. He outlined the common causes that exist for universities and colleges, emphasizing the need for more collaborative partnerships between the two. And he listened attentively to all who spoke, responding intelligently and respectfully to the suggestions and concerns brought forward.
Now that the consultation phase of the Rae panel is complete, our greatest challenge is to foster a climate of public support for colleges and universities. As Mr. Rae explained, “You don’t have to convince me. I can give the Premier advice for the next budget, but the key issue is to get the government to move.”
In looking for support, there are a few things we need to do. We need to remind the public at every opportunity of the significant contributions universities make to society. Our alumni are leaders in the public and private sectors, in economic development and volunteer work. In terms of local economic impact, we need to highlight that Western injects approximately $1.3 billion into the London economy every year. A greater provincial investment in Western will have a significant and tangible effect for all of us.
We need to explain how expansion of education and research in Ontario universities will create value-added employment opportunities and attract private investment to our province. And we need to argue that failure to pay attention to higher education opportunities for the current generation will undermine our ability as a society to sustain social programs – including health care – in the future.
Mr. Rae was duly impressed by the fact that Western was the only university in the province to present a consensus submission on behalf of all faculty, staff, students and administration, and to speak with a single voice in response to his panel. Together with the support of our alumni and friends, our collective challenge is to raise the profile of higher education as a top-priority issue on the public agenda.
To share your views please reply to Paul.Davenport@uwo.ca
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