Atkinson reassigned post-secondary portfolio
Advancing research and development in the sciences, the humanities, the social sciences and education tops the list of priorities for Saskatchewan’s new Minister of Advanced Education and Employment.
“I’m clearly a person who likes agendas, and I have an agenda for the universities,” Pat Atkinson told On Campus News. It includes what she described as “significant emphasis” on R & D in all areas of post-secondary education in an effort to continue to move the provincial economy forward while “ensuring we’re building a strong social fabric”.
Atkinson assumed responsibility for the new portfolio Feb. 3 when Premier Lorne Calvert shuffled his cabinet and created the Department of Advanced Education and Employment. Responsibility for post-secondary education previously belonged to the Department of Learning. Atkinson brings to the new department not only a wealth of experience as a long-time cabinet minister, but also experience gained when she was minister responsible for post-secondary education from 1993-95.
Combining education and employment into one department, and also giving her responsibility for immigration makes sense to Atkinson in terms of trying to address some of this province’s workforce issues, she said. “For me, it’s a recognition that we’re starting to develop some significant shortages of skilled people in this province” and that an effort has to be made, through education and immigration, to ensure “we have people to go into those positions”.
The new minister commented that Saskatchewan has a large number of unemployed people, many in the First Nations community, whose job prospects would improve with education and training. Her goal is to see “a representative workforce and representative institutions that reflect who we are as citizens”.
One of Atkinson’s first moves after her appointment was to call U of S President Peter MacKinnon. She then travelled to Saskatoon to have dinner with the University’s Board of Governors, a gesture that confirms “she’s very interested and very engaged,” according to Cindy Paquette, director of government relations for the U of S.
Paquette predicts the transition to a new minister and new department will be a smooth one for the University. “It’s mostly a matter of talking to somebody new, but she’s not new. Minister Atkinson had this portfolio before so she’s very familiar with the sector generally and the mandate of the University.”
While there is still a question around how the new department will be divided between post-secondary and employment, Paquette said removing upper level education from the Learning Department is likely a benefit for all. “When K-12 education was joined with post-secondary about four years ago, it created a really, really big department, and that meant the minister perhaps didn’t have the luxury of focusing on universities.”