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Stronger colleges will help fuel economic growth

Jul 28, 2020

By George Burton


The time is now, as Ontario emerges from the COVID-19 lockdown, to help restore the province as an economic powerhouse. With the right measures in place, Ontario Colleges can produce a stronger workforce that will fuel economic growth. And, the colleges are welcoming the current discussions with the Ford government on ways to modernize higher education.   

A key step will be to unshackle colleges from the biased policies of the past. In a time of accelerating automation and change, the policies shaping college education in Ontario should put the province at the forefront of career-focused post-secondary education.

The StrategyCorp Institute of Public Policy and Economy has described a number of opportunities to strengthen college education in a recently released white paper“The Future of Ontario’s Workers.” It calls for colleges to acquire more autonomy over their programs and credentials.

What the paper makes clear is Ontario’s economy is quite diverse. The opportunities to drive economic growth in North Bay are quite different from what exists in Toronto or Ottawa.  

That means colleges must have the independence to develop quick and effective programs that produce the best possible workforce for their local economy, with qualifications ranging from micro-credentials, certificates, diplomas, to degrees. In addition, to fully employ the resources of the college sector, an updated Investment Policy Framework that enables colleges to invest with the private sector beyond the current overly restrictive limitations would be a significant benefit, especially to small and medium-sized enterprises.

The paper has a number of recommendations for the government. One of the most important recommendations is for colleges to finally get approval to offer career-specific three-year degree programs to replace many of the existing diploma programs.

This proposed reform is long overdue. Regardless of whatever rationale was used in the past, it’s clear that many of these programs should be reclassified as degree programs.

A number of the three-year programs at Ontario’s colleges already align with the provincial requirements for degree programs. Awarding degrees would properly recognize the graduates’ academic achievements.

Allowing colleges to offer three-year degrees would also attract more students to these programs, as the degrees would open up more employment opportunities for graduates.

As well, this would help attract more international students to Ontario. This may be one of the most important reasons to implement this policy change.

Three-year degrees would make Ontario’s college programs more appealing to international students because the degree – rather than the diploma – is the internationally recognized credential for such programs.

Over the long-term, Ontario needs more people studying in Ontario and ultimately joining the workforce. Elevating Ontario’s three-year college programs to international standards will bolster our marketing efforts in other countries.

The white paper contains many other important recommendations, including a call to allow colleges to offer a master’s degree in specialized fields such as robotics and animation.

Ontario should seize the opportunity to modernize post-secondary education. Giving colleges greater independence for developing programs and credentials will be an essential part of the equation.


George Burton is the president and CEO of Canadore College.

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