Education minister seeks feedback on year-round schooling and three-year degrees
he Ontario government wants to shake up post-secondary education with expanded online education, three-year degrees and year-round schooling.
Glen Murray, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, released a discussion paper on June 28 titled “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge,” which outlines these programming changes and requests feedback from university stakeholders. He also suggests a focus on outcome-based learning and building up entrepreneurial programs and apprenticeships.
The paper is aimed at reducing costs, preparing students for work and making transferring between institutions easier for students at the province’s 44 public colleges and universities.
The minister suggested online learning could reduce costs, but University of Windsor president Alan Wildeman explained that the transition can be expensive. “You don’t do it without cost,” he said. “You don’t go into online learning from the standpoint of ‘How can we save money?’ You go into it from the standpoint of how we can increase accessibility to students, and how can we create a better educational opportunity.”
Online learning is an initiative that the university is exploring, Wildeman added.
Brett Tayles, who studied general sciences at Waterloo for three years before moving on to Ferris State University’s pre-optometry program, said of the proposals, “The whole experience of getting an education is going to school and learning from a professor in labs and lecture halls. Taking that away from students by offering more courses online will likely reduce the quality of education. Plus, independent learning is not for everyone.”
Constance Adamson, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, said that this paper touches on a lot of the ideas raised in “3 Cubed: PSE Institutions as Centres of Creativity, Competency and Citizenship Equipped for the 21st Century,” a paper from Glen Murray leaked by the Toronto Star in February.
Adamson expressed concerns about the three-year labour market-oriented degree Murray proposes. She said that the degrees are a new credential, but noted that three-year bachelor’s degrees are not in high demand. In fact, most universities are phasing them out.
“Why fast-track students through to a labour market that doesn’t exist right now?,” she questioned.
Sarah King, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students in Ontario, thinks the minister missed some important issues in post-secondary education in his paper. “Where are the questions, ‘Why do university presidents get buyouts when they leave the organization? Why do they make $400,000 a year and get their house paid and their car?’” King questioned, adding that if salaries for administrators were capped at $250,000 it would save the province $15 million.
University stakeholders, including the OCUFA, CFS and University of Windsor Students’ Alliance, will be responding through roundtable discussions with the minister and submitting their own papers. Submissions are due to the ministry by Sept. 30.
The Ontario of University Students’ Alliance released their initial response July 18 titled, “Educated Reform: Striving for Higher Quality Education at Ontario Universities.”
“The ‘Educated Reform’ is a document we worked on to start off our conversation,” said OUSA president Alysha Li. “OUSA is really looking forward to engaging in the discussion.”
OUSA’s discussion paper recommends implementing Ontario teaching chairs and teaching-focused faculty, experiential education, improved credit transfer and online learning.
The paper weighed the pros and cons of several other proposals. For year-round learning and three-year degrees, it highlights the appeal of earning a degree fast, but warns there’s been low demand for either of these by students.
Wildeman has asked campus members for input on the discussion paper. Responses can be directed to
email@example.com, and they will be factored into the submission the university makes to the provincial government.
Since many students are away for the summer, Wildeman will be reaching out to the UWSA in September to find ways to solicit their feedback. “I don’t think it’s fair to students to deny them opportunities for input,” Wildeman said.