Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides and a not very diverse group of people who appear with him, unidentified, in his video and on social media (Photo: Facebook).

Brace yourself for the First 10-Year Plan for the rapid modernization of post-secondary education!

As a general rule, promises by highly ideological governments to enact ambitious transformational change in institutions they have targeted as hotbeds of opposition to their dogma and policies should be viewed with a certain amount of distrust.

Dr. Nicolaides as he appears in his video speaking role (Photo: Screenshot of Government of Alberta video).

When they start talking about drafting a 10-year plan, though, your blood should run cold.

Well, at least Alberta Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides didn’t use the phrase “revolution from above” when he announced on Friday that the province has hired the local subsidiary of McKinsey & Co., the giant New York-based management-consulting corporation, to carry out a hurried $3.7-million contract to take a look at Alberta’s 26 public post-secondary institutions.

Oddly, there’s nothing about McKinsey in the news release, only in a linked vendor-selection notice from the government’s Alberta Purchasing Connection website. Dr. Nicolaides (PhD, University of Cyprus) also mentioned the consultant in a cheerful little social media video with soothing royalty-free elevator music playing in the background.

The review was supposedly inspired by a recommendation in former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon’s Blue Ribbon Panel last year, another exercise in deciding what to do first and asking questions later, which presumably why it was farmed out directly to a consulting firm.

Regardless, revolution from above is almost certainly exactly what Alberta’s universities, colleges, and technology institutes are likely to get from this effort by a consulting firm controversial for its advisory role in the operations of now-defunct Enron Corp. and work for authoritarian regimes like those in Saudi Arabia and China.

Athabasca University President Neil Fassina, chair of the Council of Post-Secondary Presidents of Alberta (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The consultant’s final report will be delivered “in late 2020,” the government’s news release said. Obviously, as with other recent panels and studies by the United Conservative Government, that’s not enough time to conduct meaningful “stakeholder engagement and consultation,” as promised in release.

No one should be surprised, therefore, if a government led by a premier like Jason Kenney who has clearly decided the fossil fuel industry is the way of the future, no matter what the rest of the world thinks, discovers there should be more emphasis on serving the petroleum industry in higher education.

After all, as Dr. Nicolaides put it in his cheerful little video, we must “ensure a stronger connection between labour market needs and education.”

It is essential that we double down on efforts to build a highly skilled and competitive workforce, strengthen the commercialization of research, reduce duplication and forge stronger relationships between employers and post-secondary institutions,” he said in his news release. Not all of those things are necessarily what a province in a rapidly changing world needs from its educational institutions.

Nevertheless, Athabasca University President Neil Fassina, chair of the Council of Post-Secondary Presidents of Alberta, and Alberta Students Executive Council PR Director Emmanuel Barker both contributed vaguely cringe-worthy boilerplate support for the government’s plan.

Said Dr. Fassina, in the release: In collaboration with this new partner” — it was unclear if he meant McKinsey or the UCP — “we have an important opportunity to enhance the role of our higher education system for all Albertans as we overcome challenges and seize opportunities in building a vibrant and resilient future.

Well, who can be against a vibrant and resilient future?

There might be some value to a review of post-secondary education if there were any recognition by the Alberta government there was more than one industry in this world that matters.

But, as Dr. Nicolaides said, “we must begin to train the workforce of tomorrow, today.”

By which he presumably means, “we’re going to train the workforce of yesterday, starting tomorrow.”

If so, nothing much good is likely to come from this.

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  1. Former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg spent three years working for “The Firm” (aka McKinsey) as a management consultant where he developed an expertise in Canadian grocery chain pricing. One of his clients was Loblaws and he spent days analyzing “this ridiculous database of zillions of lines of data”.

    Now that it appears that the White House gig is not going to work out maybe he’ll jump back into the consultancy game and head north to Alberta and spin data for Jason Kenney. Assuming of course Joe Biden doesn’t implode and he isn’t drafted as an emergency candidate.

  2. First thing on the agenda: make sure all post-secondary presidents know the dictionary meaning of “capitulation”. Smooth sailing from there.

  3. Early on in my teaching career I went to an inservice where we were introduced to the new math program. In her opening remarks, the presenter told us that 75% of the career choices that existed today did not exist a generation earlier. Therefore, assuming the trend continues, schools cannot prepare students for future jobs – they don’t exist yet. Instead, schools have to try to impart adaptability, so students will be able to get themselves ready for the new jobs as they present themselves. Problem solving was given a big push.

    The bizarre part is this inservice took place in about 1987, before most people had even heard of the internet. I expect that 75% figure is even higher now. So for the government to teach the skills that employers need now is doing a great disservice to the students it is teaching, although it is certainly doing a service for employers of today.

    Meanwhile the government has to be feeling some conflict of interest. Last week the CBC released a poll that found that Jason Kenney’s support was down from the 2019 election, but he still had enough support to win an election today. When the poll analysed the demographics of the UCP/NDP support, it found that UCP support was pretty much consistent regardless of educational background, but NDP support was directly correlated with educational support – as education levels increased so did NDP support. Thus it really is in the UCP’s best interest to only impart the skills employers need today.

    When I read the news stories about the government hiring McKinsey & Co, I think I recall a government representative saying something about finding out why Alberta has such a low rate of post secondary participation. The implication I read into it was they wanted to improve it, but maybe that is not the case.

  4. As expected, UPC’s war on education is in full-on mode.

    Dumbing down education has always been the goal of right-wing fascist governments. They know full well that a non-educated populace is easier to subjugate and control.

    Remember Alberta, you voted for this. Only 3 more years to go.

  5. “strengthen the commercialization of research”

    In other words, the state becomes the entrepreneur of choice and its publicly funded research institutes are used to innovate, develop, and even commercialize those breakthrough technologies that the ‘invisible hand’ of private capital is too risk averse to pursue, but not profit from. Since, venture capital investment and private equity are risk averse, high private profit entities that usually choose to invest only after the product is demonstrated to be commercially viable, following the expensive, sometimes decades long, state funded research and development process.

    See for example,

    And that is why Jason Kenney and his tragicomic cult remain steadfastly, positively 4th street.

    “I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes. And just for that one moment I could be you. Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes. You’d know what a drag it is to see you.”

  6. I enjoy reading your articles. Seems to me that in general the criticisms I read of this review (which all I agree with) s to miss the point that “building stronger relationships between post secondary institutions and employers” is just a downward spiral where industry can control research and will destroy the independence of research where post secondary institutions will just become mouthpieces for the industry that funds them. It’s awful enough that buildings on campuses are named after companies (and lets face it, primarily oil companies), such that each time a student enters the engineering building (or other) they are pointedly reminded of who is paying their way and who they should be loyal to. So so wrong, the only way to move forward is to keep post secondary institutions independent of industry, otherwise we will be educating generations of students that only think like big industry wants them to think.
    Secondly, if the Alberta government noticed that they are not getting their bang for the buck with fewer students enrolling in post secondary education, maybe they should look to the the fact that in ‘one industry Alberta’ you don’t need any post secondary education to work on the rigs and make boat loads of short term money. For any high school graduate, that’s a tough decision, do more school, get student loans, or just work and have plenty of cash right away.

  7. “Not very diverse” indeed. I thought all these ministers has at least one highly paid “issues manager”. Are you telling me an issues manager looked at this photo – in June 2020 – and said it looks just fine?

  8. Crooked Kenney doesn’t want Albertans to be able to use logic and reason. They want citizens who can’t think for themselves.

  9. Wasn’t it once said that the revolution will not be televised? However this seems like a revolution brought to us by the Used Car Party. I am sceptical real revolutions can be imposed from above.

    Rather optimistic talk of 10 year plans here also. I suspect the University bosses will be quick studies in picking up all the new lingo their bosses want to hear, but maybe not be as fast in execution of ideas. Its funny how we perceive time, 3 years goes by quickly when you are having fun, but seems more like 10 when you are being poked, prodded and pressured.

    Perhaps if we are lucky, at the end of 3 years or so, Albertans may see the economy hasn’t actually improved at all under the more rigid conservatism offered by the UCP and put an end to that experiment or misadventure, as well as their grand 10 year plans that were more reactionary than revolutuonary.

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