OISE is discontinuing its undergraduate teacher training program. MICHAEL CHAHLEY/THE VARSITY

On May 2, U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) announced that it would discontinue its Bachelor of Education (BEd) and Diploma in an effort to focus on its graduate programs. OISE will stop admitting students to its undergraduate programs beginning in 2015.

After the change, OISE will have space for about 700 graduate students. It currently has space for 200 graduate students and 1,167 BEd students.

The move comes in the wake of a provincial government decision to expand teacher-training programs to two years rather than a single year beginning in 2015. This change is required of all faculties of education in Ontario, motivated by a perceived surplus of new teachers.

A task force set up in 2013 to explore ways to restructure the BEd program considered several recommendations, one of which was eliminating the undergraduate teacher training program altogether. Rather than stretching the BEd to two years, OISE opted to stop offering its BEd program entirely and accept more students into its two graduate programs instead.

After the change, the new programs will graduate about 350 students a year. Currently, OISE programs graduate about 1,100 students each year.

In recent years, Queen’s Park has pushed for “differentiation,” a broad framework wherein post-secondary institutions are expected to make focused investments in areas of existing institutional strength and specialty.

University administration said that the change is in line with U of T’s area of focus as a research-intensive university.

“I am very pleased with the new direction in teacher education at OISE. It plays exactly to the strengths of the University of Toronto as an advanced research institution responding to the needs of a diverse population and changing economy,” said provost Cheryl Regehr in a press release.

Currently enrolled students have mixed feelings about the decision. “The changes are good in that the lengthening of the program will deter people from casually entering education as a backup to other plans, or simply as an avenue to pursue when all other avenues to employment have been exhausted,” said Sarah Leaper, a student in the Concurrent Teacher Education Program (CTEP).

Leaper added that one of the drawbacks to concentrating on graduate education is a resulting focus on theory that, although important, would remove emphasis from the practical skills necessary to new teachers.

Danielle Sandhu, a graduate student at OISE and interim executive coordinator at the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS), saw U of T’s decision as a symptom of funding problems associated with the provincial government’s differentiation program. 

“Our institutions are struggling to provide quality education and therefore are forced to come up with schemes, such as the phasing out of a bachelor education degree in favour of a graduate one, to secure a larger share of the limited amount of funding available to all institutions,” Sandhu said.

Sandhu also said that the decision would mean limited access to teaching education. “Students will no longer have access to a bachelor of education in the city,” she said, “[T]he higher tuition fees will make teacher education less accessible to lower-income students, and the impact of credential inflation will be felt across the province.”

Sandhu added that the broader issue at hand is the need for a better education strategy in the province that is more accessible and prioritizes funding for post-secondary institutions.

Though the number of OISE students will be lower, OISE dean Julia O’Sullivan maintained that the process would be “revenue-neutral all around.”

Provincial government funding will remain the same, and higher graduate tuition fees will make up for the loss of enrolled students.

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