In a span of only 30 years, full-time undergraduate enrolment in Canada rose from 550,000 to 994,000. Unsurprisingly, then, students are having an increasingly difficult time finding jobs after graduation. Indeed, Chris Martin, a senior policy and planning analyst at the government of Ontario, has noted that: “University participation has expanded in ways that the labour market has been unable to absorb.”
One would assume that the universities in charge of issuing these degrees should take some responsibility for this situation, or at least be concerned that their services do not influence the job market as they once did.
Yet, given the increasing corporatization of tertiary education, the futures of university graduates do not seem to be nearly as important as securing future funding for the institutions themselves.
As it stands, such funding seems well assured. As Kate Lawson, president of The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, has acknowledged, tuition fees are “another form of privatization.” What is more, in 2013, student tuition and ancillary fees comprise 53 per cent of the university’s funding, while government sources supplied only 34 per cent. This is not to mention that tuition is set to rise for both domestic and international students next year, by an average of 3 per cent and 6.2 per cent respectively.
Universities are instilling a neoliberal ideology in their students to encourage the belief that higher education is valuable, and that it should continue to be funded. Graduate students Scott Timcke and Bozhin Traykov argue that, “higher education [is] a central component for neoliberal ideological production… the outcome hoped for is complacency and conformity with the [current] political and economic practices.”
The funding of, and support for, higher education are current political and economic practices that are seemingly harmless in and of themselves. However, in light of the rise of tuition prices, student debt, and the lack of financial security that used to be associated with a university degree, it is questionable whether the costs of institutionalized higher education are worth supporting.
Additionally, it is unclear whether the universities could restore value to the degrees they print, or even whether they would want to. If the problem is that there are more degrees than jobs, then for the university to solve the problem they would either have to create more job opportunities, or cut back on enrolment. Neither option seems beneficial for the university, especially given that lowering enrolment would be to diminish the aforementioned funding.
Amidst this economic uncertainty, it is still possible for students on an individual level to make their degrees valuable. To do so they must actively engage with their education, they must go beyond the recommended readings, join study groups, engage with professors and teaching assistants outside of lectures, and strategically pick courses to build a personalized skill set.
Students should take advantage of the resources that come with their student card. The university, for all its faults, does provide a framework for extra-curricular activities. They provide state of the art athletic centres, and all day access to more knowledge than can be acquired in lifetimes.
In other words, students still have avenues with which to make their university experience everything they would wish of it. Yet, it is a genuine disappointment that the university, seems to be more concerned with collecting its next dollar than educating its students.
Sean Smith is at Woodsworth College studying philosophy and English. He is The Varsity’s senior copy editor.