READER COMMENT: Yea and nay to consolidating Ontario’s mining education

We opened a can of worms a week ago when we published Stan Sudol's suggestion that Ontario consolidate the educatio...


We opened a can of worms a week ago when we published Stan Sudol's suggestion that Ontario consolidate the education of mining professionals in one school, namely Laurentian University in Sudbury. Readers were quick to weigh in on both sides. Forty-five people voted on the Hot Topic, and they were 60% against such a move.


Better yet, many took the time to write and tell us what they think.


On one hand, an anonymous reader thought Laurentian is the ideal place. "New ideas could develop in a new environment. It will be important to attract the best brains and teachers," our reader wrote.


Bill Quesnel, president of Parts HeadQuarters in Burlington, ON, thought through the suggestion based on his life-long knowledge of the industry. He made these observations:


"Any move to make Sudbury the centre of mining education will have some major hurdles to overcome:


     "1) The population base density in northern Ontario that would contribute the students to the system is lower in the area in proximity to Laurentian University than it is in Toronto within the same proximity of U of T and Queen's as well as the many 'other school locations' (unnamed in the article). Has there been any study of the present student body in relation to the distance from their home address to the university of their choice and is this an important factor to consider?


     "2) Do not discount the strength of financial support from the alumni. Another important factor to consider is that the children of many university graduates tend to attend the same university their parents attended (and/or their grandparents) especially when the student is staying in the same field of work as his/her ancestors.


     "3) Traditionally university degrees in the mining field from Queen's and U of T are well known and recognized in the mining industry and carry a significant level of credibility and importance in one’s resume. Combine the high level of recognition with the fact that most of the present senior executives in the Canadian mining industry and many around the world are proud to say they have degrees from the traditional mining universities.


"Some advantages for Laurentian exist:


     "1) The fact that Laurentian is established in Sudbury in the heart of the Canadian mining industry and near the Center of Mining Innovation is certainly a very large plus.


     "2) Laurentian attracts students from the Cambrian College (Haileybury School of Mines) mining program and these students are usually well on their way to a decided career in mining.


     "3) The willingness of Vale Inco, Xstrata and other mining companies and mining contractors in Sudbury, North Bay and Timmins to work with Laurentian to provide employment to students is also a large potential draw for students from outside the area.


     "4) Government seems more willing to fund institutions such as research institutions and centers of excellence attached to the mining industry and other institutions of a similar nature in the northern part of the province than in the south.


"I agree that any change in the direction of making Laurentian University the 'Harvard of the mining sector' will be traumatic, and may do more harm than leaving the situation as it is."


That that said, Quesnel cast his vote against consolidation.


There are valid reasons not to consolidate the education of mining professionals.


Alex Doll of Vancouver-based AGD Consulting wrote, "Consolidation assumes students will migrate to the centre that mining education consolidates to. A common situation is an engineering student doesn't choose mining until after arriving at a large engineering school (UBC, Queen's, etc). This was my situation. By consolidating, the industry is less likely to recruit people like me. Many students 'shop around' for a specialty after arriving at university, not before."


"As a mining engineer," wrote Michael Anderson of Newfoundland, "I find it hard to comprehend the thinking of consolidating mineral education programs to one location. One of the first things a mining engineer has to come to terms with when choosing the mineral industry for a career, is that the business has to exist where the resources are located. Unfortunately, this means we can't choose to start a mining business on the beaches of the Bahamas unless there is gold, diamonds or some other precious material in those beach sands.


"It is the same thing with university education except the resource is not the school as your article seems to indicate, the resource is the students who will become geoscientists and mining engineers. The school is just the processing plant to turn that resource into something of higher value. The majority of this resource within the province of Ontario lives along the London to Ottawa route passing through Toronto and Kingston. Yes, I am a Queen's engineer and therefore arguably have my own bias," he continued.


"Examining this resource further, I would hazard the guess, that these high school students are largely ignorant as to what 'they want to be when they grow up' and thus will choose a university based on other factors such as economics, family and friends. I, for one, did not go to university knowing that I wanted to be a mining engineer. I believe the same was true for most of my classmates.


"To assume that it is practical to establish a single mining/geology school further north than most high school students in Ontario are aware of, and that will attract these students to move away from family and friends and dedicate their lives to mining/geology at the young age of 17 or 18, seems to me, unrealistic.


"However, given what I said in my first paragraph, maybe if you tried a school on the beaches of the Bahamas, you might have more success," concluded Anderson.


That is a thought to warm the heart of anyone who has worked at a remote Arctic mine site.


However, here is a potential compromise that may be worth pursuing.


Roger Thomas of Carp, ON, weighed in with: "As a start they could at least close down the smaller departments. Leave Waterloo to handle the environmental and groundwater types which are southern Ontario problems. I would also leave Lakehead as it services the western part of Ontario.


"Perhaps the Newfoundland model should be used so that the first two years of geology are taught at local universities to encourage students to try the field before committing great expense in moving far from home. Also there is a need for people with some geological knowledge even though they are not working in geology, for example, financial people."


With the Newfoundland model fresh on our readers' minds, we urge them to vote on this week's Hot Topic.


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