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Students, profs baffled by split of ministries

Students and professors alike are confused about the way post-secondary education was split yesterday into two separate ministries as part of Premier Campbell's cabinet realignment.

B.C. colleges are now in the new Ministry of Regional Economic and Skills Development, under Moira Stillwell. Ida Chong is now in charge of the new Ministry of Science and Universities. On Tuesday afternoon, neither ministry had a live link on the government's Ministries & Organizations web page.

In a news release, the Canadian Federation of Students - British Columbia asked for an explanation.

"This is a radical re-organization of public education in British Columbia. At this point, it is unclear what goals are driving the agenda," said Nimmi Takkar, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-British Columbia.

Historically, students have moved seamlessly between colleges and universities in BC using a renowned credit transfer system.

"BC's system of transfer between colleges and universities is the envy of other provinces. This new framework must demonstrate that it will strengthen student mobility," said Takkar.

No public consultations were undertaken before the divided framework was announced on Monday.

It is unclear at the moment how other government programs common to university and college students alike, such as student financial assistance, will be administered under the new divided framework. With separate Ministers and separate government policy, students are also concerned that the current 2% cap on tuition fee increases could be altered for one Ministry and not the other.

Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators, said the split was "puzzling":

"FPSE lobbied for a long time to bring all the post-secondary education initiatives and institutions under one ministry. That lobby effort, as well as a report from the Auditor General's Office, finally convinced the Premier to move our sector's issues into a single Ministry in 2006. This shuffle undoes that work and many of us are left asking the question why.

"Post-secondary education is a collaborative field but, to get the most out of that collaboration, you need to have a single Minister responsible for the entire system. Our concern is that dividing those responsibilities between two Ministers may well detract from the kind of collaboration that we think is necessary and possible.

"One of the really puzzling features of this shuffle is that the provincial government has opted to do something that no other province in Canada does: divide the public post-secondary education system between two Ministers.

"If there is a compelling public policy objective to be achieved through this approach, it's one that has not been identified in other jurisdictions and one that we worry may elude the post-secondary education system here in BC. We will be contacting the two new Ministers to get a better clarification about how they will work to ensure effective coordination of post-secondary education programs, policies and funding."

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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