Throughout the summer Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of Colleges, Training, and Universities, held meetings with students, professors, and institutions to discuss the future of post-secondary education in Ontario. His plan for Ontario’s educational future would see sweeping changes made to our post-secondary system, possibly to disastrous effect.
On June 28 the ministry released a discussion paper entitled “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge.” By releasing the document only two days before Canada Day the ministry may have hoped to lose it in the slow summer news season. The problem with this is that the paper outlines several very ambitious and worrying plans for Ontario’s educational future: interchangeable first- and second-year courses at all Ontario universities, a return to three-year degrees, year-round campuses, and an Ontario online university.
In principle there are good reasons for many of these changes: online learning helps those unable to physically attend campus; interchangeable courses would allow students more flexibility; and year-round courses could help alleviate the educational summer slump.
But the underlying tone of the paper belies its lofty goals. The ministry isn’t looking to improve educational quality, but its own financial situation. The financial crisis hit post-secondary institutions hard worldwide, but Canadian institutions, unable to command fees comparable to American universities, have had to scramble to make up lost funds.
In looking to balance the needs of both students and the government, the ministry has struck upon a simple solution: maximize the total number of students in Ontario universities with little regard to the quality of education offered.
“Creating the conditions to reach a 70 per cent attainment rate among Ontario’s adult population” is the last item in the ministry’s list of ‘Post-Secondary Education commitments’ nestled early in the paper. No mention is made of commitments to the quality of education offered.
As with the paper’s later goals, there is a sensible reason for this commitment: the modern workplace requires an ever-increasing number of “knowledge-workers” with at least some post-secondary education. The Ministry, however, has confused its goals with their intended consequences, to disastrous effect.
Increasing the number of adults with post-secondary qualifications without a comparable increase in educators can only dilute the quality of education offered. Employers look for post-secondary credentials as a sign that prospective employees stand out in some way, as a sign of excellence. If the quality of a student’s education is compromised, then the value of the credential is too. Mindlessly pushing up “attainment rates” without regard for the quality of education offered benefits no one.
Interchangeable, or even indistinguishable courses, will only constrain those gifted educators whose spontaneity can make a course come alive. Three-year degrees will only rush students through material best covered at length. And an education conducted solely online will lose that most essential element of education: a personal connection between the educator and the educated.
Murray’s plans would fail to improve the quality of post-secondary education in Ontario while commodifying the value of a degree. This isn’t fair to students, isn’t fair to educators, and isn’t fair to Ontario. But unless students and members of the public take action against Murray’s plans, the future of education in Ontario won’t resemble a classroom so much as a factory line.