Strategic Context

This section of the service plan provides an overview of the major external risks and opportunities and key strategic issues influencing both post-secondary education and research and innovation in the province.

Research and innovation foster economic and employment growth, social development, and labour productivity through science, technology, innovation and process improvements. In British Columbia, the university sector is the second largest contributor of research and development after business enterprises.

External Risks and Opportunities

Changes to population size and diversity1

British Columbia’s population consists of 4.2 million people, an increase of five per cent over the last five years. British Columbia’s population growth rate has been close to the national average, and is showing some signs of surpassing it. Provincial population growth has been strongest in the Thompson/Okanagan, Lower Mainland/Southwest, and Vancouver Island/Coast regions.

The age structure of British Columbia’s population has been shaped mainly by the post-war baby boom and the subsequent drop in birth rates. The combination of increased life expectancy and lower birth rates will drive this aging trend even further. As a result of these demographic trends, the proportion of youth in the general British Columbia population is declining. The K–12 population (5–17 year olds) has been on a downward trend since 2001, and this decline is projected to continue until 2014. The prime post secondary population (18–29 year olds) is expected to grow, albeit at a slower rate, until 2012 due to steady growth in the 25–29 year age group. As evident from the graphic below, within this cohort, the 18–21 year age group will be declining over the next 10 years.

Age Distribution of the Primary Post-Secondary Population.

As the average age of British Columbia’s population increases due to the long-term historical decline in fertility rates, international immigration remains the key driver of British Columbia’s population growth. British Columbia has one million immigrants, representing one-quarter of the population. Nearly three in four of British Columbia’s immigrants live in the Lower Mainland area where they represent over one-third of the area’s population. Growth in the immigrant population will likely remain concentrated in urbanized areas where employment is concentrated.

Improvements in the provincial economy have been the result of, and have contributed to, inter provincial migration. In 2003, British Columbia’s inter-provincial net migration became positive for the first time in six years and will likely remain positive for the next several years.

1  BC Stats, PEOPLE 30

Increasing value of post-secondary education and training

Higher education is valued by society in general and by its individual members. Learning and knowledge provide many benefits to people and society including contributions to fulfillment of human potential, citizenship, and an appreciation and strengthening of the arts, sciences, environment, and community.

At the same time, higher education and training are becoming more important in the labour market. Employment projections indicate that seventy per cent of new and replacement openings will require some post-secondary education and training, with job openings requiring a university degree expected to grow the fastest.

Key Strategic Issues

Enhancing access and capacity

In view of the projected growth in the prime post-secondary student population and the trend toward lifelong learning amongst the working age population, 25,000 new student spaces are being added to the system under the Strategic Investment Plan. Demand for post-secondary education and training spaces is expected to increase to the middle of the next decade in British Columbia. However, pressure on the post secondary system will vary across institutions. Recently, a number of colleges throughout British Columbia have experienced softening demand and are now operating at less than full capacity, while universities and institutes have generally experienced strong growth. The ministry will work with post secondary institutions to understand the causes of the softening demand, and to ensure that programming is relevant to the education and training needs of regions while still addressing provincial priorities. For instance, with a strong economy, individuals may be more likely to participate in the labour force than in post-secondary education.

Addressing labour market requirements

As the provincial unemployment rate has continued to decline and some sectors of the economy are operating at historically high levels, labour market pressures are being felt in some industries, occupations and particular regions of the province. While research does not suggest a “labour crisis,” there will be a significant challenge in ensuring the right mix of education and skills for existing jobs. The Ministry will monitor regional labour market conditions and make adjustments to education and training to meet labour needs as required, such as increasing access and opportunities for students to train in high demand fields, to prevent skilled labour shortages.

Advancing British Columbia’s research agenda

There is an increased interest in the output of university research and innovation, namely the intellectual property that can be further developed into products and processes with public and commercial applicability.2 Research can provide economic benefits through the commercialization of basic and applied research, and through partnerships between post-secondary institutions and local industry. Research can also provide substantial social benefits, including better-informed public policy, new medical treatments, and an increased understanding of environmental issues. The valuable work initiated in post-secondary institutions in British Columbia will benefit not just British Columbians, but societies around the world.

Government has developed a well-coordinated and integrated approach to ensure high quality and efficiency in research and innovation and maximize the benefits from our research investments. As the Ministry responsible for research and technology, we will need to work with partners to address key challenges, including: finding mechanisms to fund research activities and infrastructure; supporting the supply and retention of highly qualified researchers; transferring new ideas and knowledge from the post-secondary sector into the public and commercial domains; and, supporting the research and innovation capacity in all regions of the province.

2  Education Indictors in Canada (2003), Statistics Canada and Council of Ministers of Education, Canada.

Improving affordability

The February 2005 Throne Speech stated that tuition fee increases would be limited to the rate of inflation, effective September 2005, to ensure post-secondary education is affordable to students and their families. In September 2005, British Columbia’s tuition fees increased by two per cent, based on the 2004 British Columbia Consumer Price Index.

Student financial assistance is available to students at the post-secondary level attending public and designated private institutions. The Ministry will monitor student applications and default rates, and take action if required, to ensure student financial assistance programs are targeted to where need is greatest.

Supporting Aboriginal learners

The Aboriginal population is growing at a faster rate than the non-aboriginal population. It is now estimated that approximately five per cent of British Columbia’s current population is Aboriginal — and this number keeps growing. Also, 50 per cent of the Aboriginal population is under 25 years of age. These are all significant statistics when considering British Columbia’s future labour pool.

Progress has been made in recent years in terms of the number of Aboriginal students enrolled in British Columbia’s public post-secondary system. Initiatives such as the Ministry’s Aboriginal Special Projects Funding program, which assists public post-secondary institutions in promoting relevant, quality educational programs and support activities for Aboriginal learners have made inroads in this area. However, reports recently published by BC Stats indicate that only four out of ten Aboriginal people in British Columbia have completed a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree, compared to six out of ten non aboriginal students, and that Aboriginal people are particularly underrepresented in terms of university level credentials. These gaps have significant social and economic implications for Aboriginal people and for the province as a whole, and in order to close the gaps, a different approach is needed. The Ministry has developed a proposed strategy to address the gaps in both participation and success, and will be consulting on the strategy in the coming months.

Improving Adult Literacy

The International Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey indicated that about one million British Columbians had low literacy levels that prevent them from understanding and using basic information (e.g., news stories and instruction manuals). Low levels of literacy directly impact a person’s ability to improve their quality of life, earn sufficient income, partner in their children’s education, and participate in leisure and recreational pursuits. In connection with British Columbia’s commitment to be the best educated and most literate jurisdiction on the continent, the Ministry will continue to look for ways to improve and expand adult literacy programs and services throughout the province. These programs, which include adult literacy programs and services delivered by community agencies in partnership with public post-secondary institutions, seek to raise the literacy levels of adult British Columbians, allowing them to fully participate in the economy and society.

Expanding international education opportunities

Currently, there are more than 25,000 international students enrolled in public post-secondary institutions in British Columbia. The Ministry is committed to working together with post-secondary institutions and other government organizations towards the expansion of quality international education in the province. Doing so will encompass a broad range of activities, such as recruiting foreign students, enabling British Columbia students to study abroad, and exporting British Columbia curriculum and other educational services, as well as joint research. The benefits of international education are numerous. It enhances the educational experience for all students. The development of cross-cultural skills enhances future business and cultural development. International education is in itself an economic sector generating significant revenue. In the future, with potential skills shortages, international students are expected to help address labour market needs.

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