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Graduate enrollment set to swell

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As of September 2006, an additional 1,000 graduate students will begin programs at the University of Toronto. Many existing students, however, will not welcome the new additions with open arms.

Though the university is still waiting on funding from the provincial government, as promised in the May 2005 budget, the Graduate Students’ Union said this is just an inconsequential formality.

“They’ve already done it,” Anthony Kola-Olusanya said of the expansion. He is the current president of the GSU, which responded to the plan with mixed emotions. Given that admission offers were made prior to the approval of the plan, the GSU is not entirely opposed to the increase for the upcoming academic year, but they claim that the university’s focus is in the wrong place.

Sawfat Zaky, Vice-Provost of Planning and Budget, stated that there is nothing new about the increase. Not only was it proposed and debated and last fall, but was also included in the university’s Enrolment Report in February. The plan signifies the University’s commitment to graduate education and confirms that graduate students are the lifeblood of research at U of T.

The growth in enrolment for 2006-07 is in fact only the first part of an expansion lasting through 2010, which stems from the McGuinty government’s 2004 plan to expand graduate enrollment by 14,000. In May 2005, the Ontario budget assigned $220 million to the project. Those funds have not yet been allocated, but it is expected that they will be by the end of the summer.

The expansion seriously concerns Kola-Olusanya, who estimates that an additional 5,000 students are on the way by 2008. This would bring the number of graduate students at U of T to 16,000 from 11,000 at present.

“The quality of graduate activities needs to be protected, and, indeed, enhanced,” he said of the prospective 30% increase in graduate students. “With enrolment expansion, it appears that the quality of the student experience may actually diminish.”

The primary concerns voiced in the GSU’s submission to the Academic Board dealt with the student-faculty ratio, supervisory capacity, research funding, student support and space.

“The student experience wouldn’t be the driving force behind the expansion,” said Kola-Olusanya. “We [want] the Academic Board to see the problem in the larger context, not [in terms of] the 1,000.”

He pointed out that one of the major problems with the expansion would be the lack of new students placed at the already crowded St. George campus. Rather, they will go to the Mississauga and Scarborough campuses, which he believes are disconnected.

Zaky agreed with the concerns of the GSU, calling its submission an “excellent document.”

“By and large, it reinforces the points raised in the Discussion Paper presented in the fall. The questions of student funding, space, [and] supervision capacity are at the centre of our planning process,” he wrote in an email.

As a tangible demonstration of the Governing Council’s awareness of student experience, added Zaky, $10 million have been allocated over the next three years to specifically improve its quality.

With files from Amy Smithers.