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CANADIAN MINING PERSPECTIVES – Guest editorial: Turn Laurentian into the Harvard of the mining sector

By consolidating Ontarios university mining engineering and geology programs at LAURENTIAN UNIVERSITY, the McGuint...


By consolidating Ontarios university mining engineering and geology programs at LAURENTIAN UNIVERSITY, the McGuinty government could turn that institution into an international Harvard of the mining sector. Centralizing these programs in Sudbury would also further the communitys global reputation for mining research.

This would be an unprecedented display of vision and foresight, something the premier has shown in downtown Toronto by investing about $50 million in MaRS, a pharmaceutical and biotechnology research centre.

Sudbury is the richest mining district in North America and among the top 10 most significant globally. According to the ONTARIO MINING ASSOCIATION, half of the provinces mining activity and revenue are generated from the geologically rich ore deposits beneath our feet. With the explosion of metal prices and enormous demand from China and other developing countries, this community will be making a disproportionate contribution to provincial tax revenues for decades to come.

In addition, Sudburys growing mining supply and services cluster employs about 10,000 peoplemore than the four local mining companies combinedand exports their products and expertise around the world.

A large engineering school with well-funded research programs anchors every internationally successful cluster.

These connections support cluster businesses that create and apply new technologies and successfully compete globally. In most technology clusters, many of the start-up firms are spun off from university research activities.

The best example of this is Californias Silicon Valley and its strong connection with Stanford Universitys renowned engineering faculty. The technology-related sectors of science, math and engineering are the value-added wealth creators of any society or country. It is the engineering schools of the world that have produced innovative business people like Bill Gates of Microsoft and Steve Jobs of Apple Computer.

According to a comprehensive study by the MINING INDUSTRY TRAINING AND ADJUSTMENT COUNCIL CANADA (MITAC), the mining industry needs to fill 81,000 high-paying, highly skilled new positions in the next 10 years due to our aging workforce and lack of interest among Canadians in a mining career.

In the past 25 years, post-secondary institutions have witnessed declining enrolments in mining engineering, geology and other technical programs. Many programs throughout North America have been eliminated due to the prolonged slump in global mining.

Currently, the three mining engineering programs in the province of Ontario (UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, QUEENS and Laurentian) are all small, under-subscribed in the south and require high costs to run. Funding is enrolment-driven and it becomes difficult to maintain the curriculum required to produce effective mining engineering graduates with a small number of students.

Some institutions hide or integrate these mining programs into other more generic fields such as geological, civil and mechanical engineering departments. As a result, universities are at risk of losing relevancy to the industry.

Between 1995 and 2002, mining engineering programs in all of Canada produced on average only 109 undergraduates per year.

There are approximately eight geology departments in Ontario, none of which have achieved the critical scale or mass that can attract significant industry participation.

Southern Ontarios urbanized students have no exposure to the mining sector. How are we going to convince these students who have probably never seen a mine and are comfortable living in large cities that mining is an industry with a bright future? The distant view from the top floor of Laurentians administrative tower is filled with the many mine shafts that dot our rugged landscape. Northern Ontario students live in resource communities and better understand the benefits of a mining engineering or geology degree.

It is the kids from Sudbury, Timmins, Kirkland Lake, and Red Lake who will be the primary source of our future mining engineers and geologists.

Many new mine developments in Northern Ontario will be on traditional aboriginal territories and it is imperative that the next generation of aboriginal students fully participate in their development. Outreach programs to aboriginal youth would be an essential component of centralizing the provinces mining engineering and geology programs in Sudbury. A similar outreach program exists with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Sudbury and Thunder Bay.

When the mining programs at CAMBRIAN COLLEGE and COLLEGE BOREAL are combined with Laurentian, Sudbury probably has the largest concentration of post-secondary mining programs in the country. With the appropriate provincial initiatives and vision, Sudbury could easily be transformed into a global centre for mining education. We could be training the next generation of Brazilian, New Caledonian, Chilean and Chinese mining professionals.

There will be intense opposition to the idea of letting Laurentian evolve into a mining technology powerhouse from southern universities that stand to lose out.

However, northerners must remember all the southern medical schools were opposed to the creation of the new medical school in Sudbury and Thunder Bay, preferring to just increase their own enrollments instead.

Southern universities must put aside their parochial concerns for the greater good of the province. A potentially strategic investment like this will not only create the necessary synergy that all successful clusters thrive on, but become an integral engine of the entire northeasts economic development.

One of the most important dates in the history of Sudbury was July 30, 1986. That is when former Liberal Premier David Peterson announced the relocation of the ONTARIO GEOLOGICAL SURVEY and the mineral resources branch to Sudbury, together with the head office functions of the MNDM. Until that announcement most people thought this initiative was impossible and there was intense southern opposition to the plan.

Premier Peterson stated in a speech that, Sudbury was chosen as the site for this conference because of its growing reputation as a centre of mining experience and know-how. This government wants to build on that reputation and put Sudbury on the road to being an internationally recognized centre of excellence in the earth sciences, mining and mineral research.

That extraordinary vision of the past Liberal government in Ontario was one of the main reasons I voted for McGuinty in 2003. Needless to say, I have been very disappointed.

The small amount of funding that the current Liberal government has committed to mines research is simply not good enough to establish a legacy comparable to the previous Peterson administration.

The McGuinty government has failed to recognize the global mining expertise in the Sudbury Basin. This lack of vision is holding back the community and its potential high-tech contributions to the entire province.

(This column originally appeared in NORTHERN LIFE on July 6, 2007)

(Stan Sudol is a Toronto based communications consultant and policy analyst who writes extensively on mining issues. stan.sudol@sympatico.ca.)


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