Addressing future concerns
Post-secondary education has been a highly contentious issue in Ontario over the past few months following the release of the Liberal party’s discussion paper on education reform. Spearheaded by the minister of training, colleges and universities, Glen Murray, the paper, titled “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge,” made suggestions such as creating more three-year degree programs and enhancing online education, which have invoked high levels of opposition from many people involved in post-secondary education.
Executive director of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), Rylan Kinnon, said that much of the opposition to the Liberal discussion paper is because people believe that the suggestions are pre-determined outcomes.
“A lot of people have approached this discussion with the apprehension that the government’s going to move forward on these things. We’ve approached it as it’s a discussion,” he clarified.
OUSA, of which Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union is a member, was quick to respond with their own suggestions for how to improve education based on what they believed to be in the interests of their members. Their discussion paper, “Education Reform,” emphasizes the development of online learning and a renewed emphasis on teaching, among other suggestions.
“Online learning that has actually had time invested in it, courses that have been developed making use of experts in online learning and how you actually engage students, this is something that we think is good,” said Rylan Kinnon, the executive director of OUSA.
While the argument has been made that online courses are simply a cost-cutting measure, OUSA’s position is that benefits can be found in the way of increased accessibility and flexibility in the learning process. This may be of particular value for mature students, students with dependents or those participating in distance education, but can be useful for all students, according to Kinnon. However, students must retain “access to all the same kinds of support services that a student studying on campus does” at hours which reflect the needs of this type of learning.
Kinnon believes that online education has often been painted unfairly as simply posting lectures online, which disregards the possibilities which exist for discussion, use of experts and other benefits.
“Our main concern is ensuring that the discussion remains holistic and recognizes that there are many different ways of doing it,” he said.
OUSA has also made recommendations on how to raise the teaching stature of universities, based on the recognition that an unbalanced emphasis in favour of research in Ontario puts the quality of teaching at risk.
Kinnon explained, “What we’d like to see is at every university in Ontario you have at least one, but preferably five, teaching chairs in place at any given year who are looking at how they teach, looking at basically new ways of doing things.”
Teaching chairs, he claims, would also be more cost efficient than research chairs, which currently exist and are highly expensive.
The problem with a disproportionate research focus, according to Kinnon, is that it doesn’t allow for those who are interested in teaching to explore their options, as research is also rewarded in a different way.
“We know that there are faculty who enjoy teaching and who want to teach more, but if they don’t have the same professional growth opportunities as faculty who do research, then obviously the incentives are toward doing research,” he argued.
With costs for attending university in Ontario the highest in the country, tuition was also a major discussion point going into the fall. Ontario’s average tuition, at $7,180, is well over the national average of $5,581.
OUSA released this week part one of two discussion papers focussed on tuition, titled “Ontario’s Next Tuition Framework.”
The main recommendations presented are to freeze tuition for at least a one-year period, increase per-student funding and ensure that any future tuition increases be no greater than the rate of inflation. The recommendations, Kinnon said, are based on direction provided by OUSA members.
“We need to see government funding increase,” he acknowledged. “It also means ensuring that tuition costs don’t continue to increase as they have been, because obviously trying to catch government funding up to a point where they can become again two-thirds of the funding source means that tuition can’t keep climbing as much as it has been.”
OUSA’s discussion papers and policy recommendations can be found at www.ousa.ca.