Universities given mere days to expand nursing programs

·3 min read

MANITOBA post-secondary institutes were given fewer than five days, a weekend included, in the spring to draw up “significant modification applications” to scale-up nursing programs as soon as possible, emails show.

The Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations obtained a series of correspondence to and from the department of advanced education and university administrators regarding an increase to nursing enrolment.

The documents, which were shared with the Free Press, show a public servant contacted senior officials at the University of Manitoba, Brandon University, Université de Saint-Boniface, and University College of the North, about “an urgent matter related to nursing” on May 12.

A meeting was held the following day, as well as a followup note to outline the province’s request for nursing expansion proposals, which were to be received on May 18. Institutions were told not to submit a financial form to outline cost projections at the time.

“I would like to express my appreciation for the nursing expansion proposals... We recognize and appreciate that institutions had very tight timelines to develop these proposals, driven by the acute workforce demand for nurses,” wrote Agnes Wittman, director of post-secondary institutions in the province’s advanced education division, in an email dated July 13.

When the province formally announced the initiative in the summer, it touted plans to earmark $7.5 million to add 400 seats to nursing schools over the next two years.

The Manitoba Nurses’ Union and educators at U of M have been critical of the province’s approach and intentions. The latter has raised concerns about the province directing their employer to significantly alter how it offers nursing education without taking into account academic integrity, research operations and instructor recruitment.

“How can you create an expansion of nursing seats in a province, and create a co-ordinated, well-organized, thoughtful plan in four days?” said Lynda Balneaves, an associate professor of nursing. “We’ve been raising the alarm bells in the nursing profession for years.”

Balneaves said more faculty members are required to boost undergraduate enrolment by more than 100 seats, but her department — not unlike others at the U of M — has been struggling with recruitment and retention due to her employer’s low wages.

“You can produce a ton of nurses, but if you don’t have any faculty or can’t produce any faculty, it’s a vicious (shortage) circle,” she said.

Balneaves indicated faculty have yet to learn about the official U of M expansion plan or timeline. The university’s spring proposal included the creation of 120 seats and the introduction of a third intake to condense the program so a nursing degree could be completed in 3.5 years.

“Our government is committed to ensuring that Manitoba has a strong nursing workforce now and into the future who can staff our hospitals and health-care clinics,” a spokesperson for the advanced education department wrote in a statement Tuesday.

The spokesperson noted the province requested “preliminary” proposals in early May, which were used to structure an expansion, and set a deadline of July 30 for formal proposals. The statement did not address why the initial proposal request was rushed.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press

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