Education message stressed
By Mark Brown
Students, administrators and employers agreed providing quality education was one of the key messages delivered to the government at Friday's Premier's Conference on Jobs and Prosperity.
The conference, at the Royal Host Hotel in downtown London, was the fifth in a series of seven such conferences across the province, designed to give the government advice on policies which promote job creation in the province.
"There is more to do," said Ontario Premier Mike Harris. He added the province hopes to collect advice on what the provincial government should be doing, denying the conference was part of a pre-election strategy. "It's to try and get a blueprint. It is not a campaign document."
Still, many of the delegates, including Western's President Paul Davenport, said they would like to see more of an emphasis placed on education. "I don't think that is fully recognized in the documents that had been put out in advance of this conference," Davenport said.
Davenport explained Ontario's universities hoped the conference would establish a clear vision about the importance of university teaching and research to future economic growth, prosperity and cultural growth of the province.
He added Ontario universities currently receive only two-thirds of the public funding universities south of the border receive. "We just can't have that."
David Johnson, Ontario's minister of education and training, responded to calls from the delegates for more money to education. "If the people of Ontario think there are ways that we can wisely invest more money to improve education, then I would be anxious to hear those views.
"This year there will be more money invested in education than ever before and I think more wisely too, since it is being focused in the classroom."
Harris explained the government's objective. "Our goal is this: that every student, regardless of financial circumstance or planning or lack of it, who meets the academic qualifications, will have access and the money and the ability to go to that post secondary program."
David Small, VP-finance for the University Students' Council, said he thought education was important but noted there are other problems which also need to be addressed. "I don't think that's fair to look at [education] as the only issue."
Harris said the government will do everything it can to ensure there are high paying jobs for students when they graduate.
"It's in our interest that we do everything to ensure that those jobs are there both so that they can pay back their student loans that's a small part we want them to be productive taxpaying members of society that are contributing to the next generation of education," Harris said.
Five high school students from Chatham, who were invited to speak at the conference, also raised the issue of the difficulties of holding down a part-time job while attending school. "A little bit of contributing to education helps young people appreciate it more," Harris responded.
"If a student has $15 or $20,000 worth of debt going into a $60,000 a year job, this is not a big problem," he said.
Comments from those invited to the conference will be collected in a report to the premier sometime in February.