Brandon University’s president believes a letter penned by the Council of Presidents of Universities in Manitoba has grabbed the education minister’s attention.
"We did write a letter and I think it’s having some impact," BU’s president and vice-chancellor Deborah Poff said. "I’m glad that the minister seems responsive to our concerns."
In the letter sent to Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum last week, the COPUM called the minister’s proposed amendments to the province’s education bill "an infringement on our autonomy" and requested the bill "remain consistent with current legislation and limit the authority of the minister to provincial funding."
Poff said university presidents across the province were collectively concerned with what they thought "was a considerable increase in the power of the minister."
"We have to be accountable to government but we want to be able to steer our own strategic plans," Poff said.
In an emailed statement to the Sun, a provincial spokesperson said "Bill 63 is designed to reduce the administrative burden on institutions and ensure Manitoba’s post-secondary system can operate more seamlessly."
"We have a strong working relationship with COPUM and enjoy open dialogue with Manitoba’s institutions," the statement reads. "We are listening to the advice they provided and working to make changes that better clarify the intent of the bill."
Another concern outlined in the letter were plans to eliminate the Council on Post-Secondary Education and merge its existing members with the Department of Education.
"There was a concern that this would give too much authority to the minister," Poff said.
Assiniboine Community College president Mark Frison said some of the concerns raised by university presidents are quite particular to universities. For colleges, he said, most of the proposed changes "are not entirely different than the current college’s act with respect to how they might exercise influence over colleges."
"I’m still in favour of anything that makes the program approval process move more quickly," Frison said. "For colleges in particular, being able to respond to labour market shortages is important, so we don’t want to have a process that’s overly layered in terms of getting program approval."
Allum said earlier this week that he will introduce changes to the bill in coming days to address concerns raised by faculty members, university officials and students.
The legislature is scheduled to rise for the summer June 12, although there is talk of extending the sitting for another week. Allum said this week he planned to have the bill amended and passed into law before the summer break.
» firstname.lastname@example.org, with files from The Canadian Press