For years, university revenue would go up by an average of eight per cent each year. Tuition would be raised by around five per cent each year. Expenditure at the University of Toronto would go up by more than five per cent each year. Meanwhile, student unions would go out to Governing Council to complain about tuition. Then they would hold a couple of poorly attended protests and claim victory over a few things — such as the 30 per cent off tuition policy. Their slate would win the next student election and the cycle of life would go on.
Where did all of this leave our university? It is currently one of the most highly regarded universities in the world in rankings based on research. Yet we are below average in educational measures. Just look at the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) rankings, in Maclean’s magazine, or all of the classes with over a thousand students in them. I would be surprised if graduate students fare any better based on my work in the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU).
Despite this discrepancy, there seems to be little discussion about shifting resources from research to education or about where our tuition is going. As students we should ask why this discussion is absent. My guess is that it has something to do with our university’s efforts to win around a billion dollars in very competitive research grants, operating revenue is 1.8 billion dollars, and the lack of anything similar for education. What will be the next step if we want a better balance between education and research? Maybe learning outcomes won’t be the answer, but surely neither is inaction.
That is why I support the current efforts to reform the post-secondary education system by the Ministry of Training, College and Universities. Contrary to views expressed by the UTSU’s executives, this effort has been about students and other members of the post-secondary education discussing these systematic problems and bringing forward our solutions. The Ministry provided a discussion paper to incite directed discussion. We were invited to provide written submissions on how the sector could be improved. The minister hosted round table discussions that allowed student leaders, including myself and members of UTSU, to express our views and began attending student-led town hall meetings, including the GSU’s, to engage a wider of group of students.
In a better world, this would be the model for how public policy is generated: Ideas, good and bad, being brought to the people that are affected for their feedback, bypassing established hierarchies and engaging in complicated conversations that can be so specialized that only a subset of students may understand them.
Sure, it probably would be a bad thing if 66 per cent of courses were online, but a quarter of graduate students responded in our survey that they want the option to take online courses when they have a job. No, we don’t want exploitive internships to be mandatory in our programs, but we do want a well-operated internship program to be a real option in doctoral programs. Learning outcomes might not work in graduate school, but something has to be done about faculty supervisors only talking to their doctoral students once a year.
That is why it is so disheartening to see fellow student leaders attacking the current process. I agree with advocating for lower tuition. I agree with having rallies to get public attention for the benefits of increased public investment in post-secondary education. I just do not agree with attacking a consultative reform effort because it may not achieve those specific priorities.
That being said, if you want change then you will need to communicate to your MPP, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and your Premier that you support reform. You need to say what you want to see changed and you need to join the conversation over reform.
Jason Dumelie is GSU Academics and Funding Commissioner of the Science and Engineering Divisions