Finding a vision for Ontario PSE

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Easier credit transfers, a greater emphasis on “experiential learning” and increased teaching quality are among the priorities the Ontario government has in mind for the future of post-secondary education. In a discussion paper the government released earlier this summer, the provincial government outlined what it believes colleges and universities should look like in the near-to-long term.

“We wanted to look at the idea of ‘deep learning’ versus ‘surface learning,’ and shift the focus on to how students learn, not necessarily how faculty teach,” said Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. “We wanted to find out what the best possible approaches are that universities and colleges should be taking to enhance student learning outcomes.”

According to Murray, the government consulted both Canadian student and educational research groups, as well as models from places like Europe and Australia when looking for the direction Ontario should go in, in terms of post-secondary education.

“The reason for this paper was to put these ideas forward as questions and then work these ideas into policy,” added Murray.

The discussion paper outlines a number of areas in which Ontario’s post-secondary education institutions can improve, but one that Murray highlighted was a move toward a more practical or “experiential-based” learning system.

“During one of the feedback sessions [for the paper], we were in London at Western and Fanshawe College, and I was taken aback by how many students there were members of both institutions,” he said. “We have about 600,000 post-secondary students and about 120,000 are in things like apprenticeships, getting paid…. If you include co-op programs, that number goes up to about 200,000. When we focus more on how students use the material their learning as opposed to the transmission of course content, you get a much more productive process…. We’re really for a lot of those productivity goals and gains, and that can even help bring down the cost of education.”

Murray also noted that he would like to see students have more access to more effective online learning and have a greater capacity to build their own programs, taking courses and transferring credits between institutions. Specifically when it comes to online learning, Murray mentioned an Australian model, which enables students to access online courses from several different schools.

Since the paper’s release, the government has been conducting feedback sessions with student association such as the Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) and students from post-secondary institutions across Ontario.

“They’re looking at improving quality, and things like increasing student mobility and we’ve always been supportive of things like that,” said Chris Walker, vice president of student affairs at the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union. “The issue is that sometimes the ambiguity of the document creates a lot of anxiety. For example, with respect to online learning [the government] wants to bring in the Ontario online institute, which would be an online university that takes courses from other universities, and give it degree-granting ability. Nobody wants that to be a degree-granting institute.

As always with discussions surrounding post-secondary education, cost and accessibility is a major factor the paper discusses. Last February, the government introduced a tuition rebate for students in college and university, however ,Walker doesn’t believe this is enough.

“Absolutely not,” said Walker when asked if the Ontario tuition grant was enough to help students with the cost of post-secondary education. “It’s a good start, it’s a significant investment in post-secondary education, but there’s still a lot of the same issues we see with OSAP.”

Murray admitted that the government will need to look for additional measures on top of the tuition grant.

“There’s this idea that we’re going to empty the classroom and everybody’s just going to get a laptop, but that’s just nonsense,” said Murray.

“The 30 per cent tuition grant was to provide some immediate relief,” said Murray. “That was a very quick program out the door after the [2011 provincial] election and we’re now looking at longer-term measure.”


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