Provincial task force aims to better equip students for life after graduation11 August 2016
FREDERICTON (GNB) – A new provincewide task force on experiential education wants to make New Brunswick the destination place in Canada for students seeking an active learning experience as part of their university education.
The task force is developing a plan to ensure students enrolled in New Brunswick’s post-secondary institutions have opportunities to graduate with the skills and confidence that have become increasingly important in today’s market.
“More and more, students and employers are looking for post-secondary institutions to supplement academic learning with opportunities for its practical application, like co-op programming, service learning, internships and work experiences,” said Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Donald Arseneault. “It is not simply job-readiness that employers are after. A demonstrated competence in skills such as team-building, problem-solving and leadership is also in high demand.”
Initiated in early May, the task force includes representatives from all four public universities, the student population, the provincial government, the business community, and the not-for-profit sector.
“Experiential education opportunities are good for students, who acquire experience working in professional settings, good for employers, who get a close look at potential future employees, and good for universities, as feedback from students and employers allows us to improve in response,” said Eddy Campbell, president and vice-chancellor of the University of New Brunswick.
Traditionally, work-integrated learning programs such as co-op placements and internships have been predominantly offered in the fields of science, technology or business. That is changing as more programs in arts, humanities and social sciences work to develop co-op programs and internship possibilities of their own.
A pioneer of experiential education in New Brunswick, Université de Moncton opened its first co-op placement in 1987. Today, it offers more than a dozen opportunities to students enrolled in business, science or the arts.
As well, this February, St. Thomas University and NB Power announced an agreement to create experiential learning opportunities for their students.
At the University of New Brunswick’s Fredericton campus, about 40 students from the faculty of arts are placed in for-credit internships with local not-for-profit organizations and community partners each year. That number is expected to continue to grow. The university’s Saint John campus has approved a co-op program for arts students set to begin this fall. This program will join the business co-op already operating on the Saint John campus.
Mount Allison University has seen students benefit from experiential learning opportunities in many disciplines and settings within and beyond the curriculum. Some examples include: assisting in the creation of an outdoor education curriculum at the local elementary school; establishing a business through a commerce entrepreneurship class; performing in recitals and art exhibitions; and volunteering with a wide range of community groups and organizations.
Kim Meade, vice-president of international and student affairs at Mount Allison University, who is also a task force member, says experiential learning is a part of the culture at the university and one the institution is committed to enriching.
“Mount Allison’s foundation in liberal arts and science education provides an ideal pairing for experiential learning to help our students gain valuable life and career skills,” said Meade. “We are pleased to be part of this provincial task force as we all work towards increasing these kinds of opportunities for New Brunswick students.”
Providing students with a framework to expand their skills and learning beyond the classroom has the potential to be a boon to the provincial economy as well, said Adrienne O’Pray, CEO of the New Brunswick Business Council.
“Supporting experiential education is a great way to invest in our future workforce in New Brunswick,” she said. “Working in partnership allows students to understand the real and exciting opportunities that exist within New Brunswick’s large and start-up companies, as well as social enterprises and community organizations. Employers are able to assess new talent and bring new thinking to projects and challenges, while contributing to talent development in the province.”
The initiative is consistent with the national focus on this issue. Earlier this year, Canada’s Business/Higher Education Roundtable, a year-old organization launched by the Business Council of Canada, released a plan to work towards helping students to benefit from work-integrated learning opportunities before graduation.
It is a move that is welcomed by the New Brunswick Student Alliance.
“The alliance has been pushing the government for several years now to take experiential learning more seriously,” said Robert Burroughs, executive director. “The value of that aspect of post-secondary education cannot be understated. That the government, universities, employers and students are working together to expand and enhance the experiential learning opportunities in the province is a positive step for students.”
The task force is also consulting with the college sector, which has extensive experience and a long history facilitating applied learning. During the next six months, they will review best practices from across the region and the country and work towards proposing a New Brunswick-centred approach.
“It is really a chance for us to come together and say how we want to work together with others in our community to have a more cohesive approach to offering opportunities for experiential education to students in New Brunswick,” said Laurelle LeVert, chair of the task force and associate vice-president of the University of New Brunswick, Saint John campus.
Funding for the task force is provided by New Brunswick’s public universities and by the provincial government through the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour.