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Universities in Ontario are asking students and their parents to share their hopes and anxieties about the province's economy in a bid to show that the sector can be responsive to families' concerns.

On Friday, universities will launch a year-long consultation with the public probing opinions on jobs, environmental sustainability and social services, among other topics. The consultation will also include a survey asking specific questions about what kind of skills graduates will need.

"A lot of things that people are worried about, universities are working on," said David Lindsay, the president of the Council of Ontario Universities. Universities "recognize that people are concerned about the economy and the future and … what are the job prospects for their children," he said.

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Questions have consistently been raised over whether there is a mismatch between employer expectations and the skills that new graduates bring to the workplace.

Even though statistics show that earnings for university graduates far exceed those of high-school grads, some studies have found that a bachelor's degree is not a guarantee of a student's skills. A Statistics Canada study released this month showed that a small minority of students have poor numeracy and literacy abilities.

Reaching out to the public through the online survey, events on campuses and at university recruitment fairs will give schools a better understanding of why families are worried, Mr. Lindsay said.

"We want to bring back what we heard and … turn it into action items," he said.

The provincial government is currently talking to the sector about how it may change the way it funds universities to better reflect each institution's specific mission. The public survey will not play a role in those negotiations, but could help institutions bolster their case for stable grant-funding levels.

Presidents of the province's 20 universities came up with the idea to reach out to the general public. It's a part of a desire to work more closely with business and community organizations, Mr. Lindsay said.

"It's not just sharing statistics and data, it's an engagement exercise," Mr. Lindsay said.

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The survey is launching at a provincial universities fair this weekend and results are expected to be released in September, 2017.

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