ACCORDING TO THE TOWARDS 2030 REPORT, Come 2030, U of T will be even more competitive on the national and international stage. At St. George campus, 35 per cent of the student population will be graduate students, which will increase our research reputation but still provide quality education to a majority of undergraduates. The population of UTM and UTSC will have expanded and the schools developed their respective programs, gaining a new level of prestige and autonomy. Tuition will increase, but U of T will mitigate that burden with more bursaries and scholarships, keeping the university accessible to marginalized students. Corporate partnerships will bring in additional dollars, and provide new applications for cutting-edge research. The increased funds derived from tuition will improve the undergraduate experience by providing more resources for a slightly smaller student population.
ACCORDING TO TOWARDS 2030’S CRITICS, Increased tuition will make U of T even more inaccessible, and financial aid will not be enough to make up the difference—if anything, it will put more students into debt. Poor and otherwise marginalized students will be discouraged from coming to U of T and the student population will become less economically diverse and more privileged. Corporate partnerships will discourage less profitable research and study results will become skewed in the favour of corporate interests. Potential whistleblowers will keep quiet for fear of losing their funding. Some believe the decrease in undergraduate presence on St. George will also mean that undergraduate education will be less of a priority, but this is not the view of all who criticize Towards 2030.
Though it may seem like a bolt from the blue, the Towards 2030 report is actually the latest in a history of long-term planning documents at U of T. Since the 1980s, university presidents and their colleagues have drafted similar documents to set out U of T’s needs in the years ahead.
Back in the day, president George E. Connell’s Renewal 1987 addressed many of the same issues as Towards 2030: improving undergraduate education, increasing the graduate population, and giving the tri-campus administrations more autonomy. The 1987 report introduced “campusby- campus planning,” which focused on individual campus development and received flack for ignoring the ways many departments stretch across campuses. Much like the current prognostication for U of T, 1987 provided a venue for students, faculty, and staff to debate the university’s future. U of T also saw Planning for 2000 in 1994, 1999’s Raising Our Sights, and mostly recently Stepping Up in 2003. It is only in its far-reaching, 20-year focus that Towards 2030 is truly an oddity for the university.
Initially drafted in June 2007, five task forces collected submissions from across U of T to augment what would become the longer Towards 2030 Synthesis document, a more polished version of the original draft. Governing Council approved a shorter outline, known as the Towards 2030 Framework, in October 2008. The framework outlines 2030’s main ideas: self-regulation of student fees, increased graduate enrollment on St. George campus, and increased corporate partnerships.
In addition, 2030 engages a whole range of issues including how to fairly administer U of T’s three campuses, how to prepare for the perpetually increasing demand for undergraduate education, and how to stay competitive in original research. One of the proposed solutions is to increase graduate presence on St. George campus while directing more undergraduates to UTM and UTSC. “A presumptive goal is that, by 2030, on-site graduate enrolments will comprise at least 35 per cent of the student head-count on the St. George campus, through a blend of modest reductions in undergraduate enrolment and growth in graduate numbers,” reads the framework. Despite the significant change this idea represents, the proposed undergrad-grad ratio is one of the least controversial aspects of Towards 2030.
U of T is certainly not the only Canadian institution looking into reforms in order to bolster its reputation in the upper echelon of global research universities. David Naylor, along with the presidents of the other “Big 5” Canadian universities—McGill, the University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, and University of Montreal—recently proposed that they should collectively concentrate more on graduate- level research while smaller school focus on undergrads.
Small and mid-sized universities called foul, as, according to Maclean’s, the Big 5 already receive 46 per cent of the funds from Canada’s main grant councils and 47 per cent of the money the Canada Foundation for Innovation sets aside for research infrastructure. Why should they be allowed to monopolize the system further? Carleton University president Roseanne O’Reilly Runte argued in a Globe and Mail opinion piece that such a system would put smaller universities “in a second tier, removing their ability to compete or collaborate equally.”
But, the presidents of the Big 5 counter, Canada needs to compete internationally and attract top students from around the world. Throughout 2030, especially the longer synthesis document, U of T is constantly compared to its peer institutions in Canada and the United States, including the University of California system and the Ivy League.
Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology professor Paul Hamel has observed U of T’s almost inevitable look southward, and how it can be a positive or negative influence on the university. “In Canada I suppose there’s a lot of comparisons, certainly people in the corporate classes or the elite classes have a profound fixation on what’s going on [in the United States],” he said, recalling that when U of T’s medical school was reorganized there was a debate over whether to follow the path trod by Harvard. “That’s always been a point of struggle or tension in the country— how do we make our own path?” It’s often unclear whether U of T is trying to be something it’s not, drawing comparisons to know where it stands, or a bit of both.
In the absence of sustained government funding, achieving the kind of capital necessary to compete on this level pushes the university to look for other sources of revenue. This is where Towards 2030 comes in.
Given the particular aims of the framework and the synthesis documents, fees are at the centre of the furor over 2030. According to the framework, “The University acknowledges that, under almost every financial scenario that is remotely feasible or that sustains an acceptable level of academic quality, tuition fees will remain an important source of revenue.”
Before the October 23 Governing Council vote that approved the 2030 framework, 5,398 students, faculty, and staff participated in a plebiscite held by the full-time undergraduate and graduate student unions. The plebiscite asked voters if they approved of student fee deregulation, and the response was an overwhelming “no,” with 93 per cent. The non-binding plebiscite allowed the community to express its opinion on the issue, but did not directly influence the October 23 vote.
“Either the federal or provincial government start pumping in way more money […] or alternatively they will essentially have to privatize the university and make fees similar to what you get in private colleges and universities in the United States,” Hamel explains. “Having 50,000 students in downtown Toronto, sticking them in Con Hall and these massive classes is really antithetical to the purpose of the place.” Hamel sees increased funding from private sources as a trend that harkens back to the 1970s, as attitudes about education and taxation changed.
President Naylor believes the problem of funding the university is twofold: first, that post-secondary education is low on the list of provincial priorities after health care and the financial crisis, among other issues; second, that the policy of equalization is seeping money out of Ontario to other provinces. “Something about a crowded [university] classroom doesn’t seem to grab public attention and political capital the way that a crowded primary school classroom does,” he said in an interview with The Varsity earlier this month. “In essence, Ontario students and universities and colleges are paying higher tuitions that subsidize tuitions in other provinces.”
Naylor encourages students to tell their registrar if they are having monetary issues and to work toward an alternative solution, saying that much of the problem is that needy students aren’t made aware of the financial aid that is potentially available to them. “We take a very substantial portion of an increase in fees and plunk it into bursary money right away. This is run, depending on the program, anywhere from some meaningful per cent to as high as 30 per cent,” he said. “We do not want anyone to leave the university where financial concerns are the driving force.”
Towards 2030 promises to make up the difference for needy students when tuition rises. According to the framework: “The University will increase its efforts to ensure that incoming and current students understand the available offsets to tuition fees that lead to de facto reductions in those fees. The University will also draw aside funds from tuition increases to ensure that accessibility is maintained as and when tuitions increase.”
This statement has been little comfort to the proposal’s critics. “When you’ve had a job not making more than $10,000 a year, you don’t see having $30,000 in debt as a viable option in your future, no matter how easy it is to get the loan,” notes Governing Council student representative Andrew Agnew-Iler. “If you increase tuition fees and you increase OSAP you just increase the debt load that students are going to come out of the university with, and they’re already facing a gigantic debt load.”
Corporate partnerships are another stickler for 2030 critics. Both the framework and synthesis note U of T’s lack of such partnerships in comparison with peer institutions in Canada and the United States: “In responding to this opportunity, and more generally in relationships with investor-owned and non-profit partners, the University will follow its extant policies and consider all partnerships in the light of implications for academic freedom, reputational risk and social responsibility, and respect for existing collective agreements.”
On the topic of corporate partnerships, the University of Toronto does not have the best track record. In 1996 U of T researcher and Sick Kids doctor Nancy Olivieri was fired from her post when she publicized negative side effects of a drug she was researching for her sponsor. Olivieri fought back and her case led to a re-evaluation of academic freedom at U of T. Naylor, then Dean of Medicine and very involved in the case, is confident that the measures currently in place will prevent future violations.
“There’s a specific publication policy that says we expect our professors and students to have the right to publish papers arising from their research within a specified number of weeks after the sponsor has looked at the material. The sponsor has no veto rights or censorship rights, but can offer constructive criticism just as the referees will, but ultimately the decision to publish has to be with the professor and students,” Naylor explained.
In this respect, it is worth noting that civil engineering professor Robert Andrews is still on faculty. In 2000 Andrews doctored the results of his water purification survey to the benefit of his sponsor, ERCO Worldwide, ignoring the complaints by locals in Wiarton, Ontario whose water system had become a living laboratory without their knowledge. Two years later his work was retracted from one publication and censured by two others when it was found he had plagiarized off one of his students. Andrews is still working in the civil engineering department, and even won an award earlier this year from the Ontario Water Works Association.
PLANNING FOR DEVIATIONS FROM THE PLAN
“I expect there will be ongoing issues on the themes of 2030 for not just the next 20-plus years but way past 2030. What’s really interesting to me is how recurrent the questions [are] that have challenged this university and others,” observes Naylor.
“I look forward to some point when I’m sitting happily in retirement, watching the successors have the same debates, and watching The Varsity and the student unions have the same responses and concerns. It will go on.”
Though Towards 2030 may seem overwhelming, it is by no means set in stone. The approved framework is very broad and specific policies have yet to be put in place, as suggested in its own conclusion: “These strategic directions, as noted, constitute a framework for shorter and longer-term institutional planning,” the report reads. “Their salience may well diminish as time passes and the University’s context changes […] For that reason, among others, the Framework must be seen as a living document— subject to intermittent review, with various of the strategic directions modified as circumstances require.”
The synthesis is not strictly binding either. U of T’s next 20-odd years will be shaped by the administrators, faculty, and students that make it their business to shape it. No matter what side you’re on, the debate is hardly over.