OUSA releases student vision of proposed Ontario Online Institute

On Aug. 24 the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) released its vision for the creation of the Ontario Online Institute, a commitment made in the Ontario government’s most recent throne speech to broaden access to post-secondary education.

“Not much definition was given on what [the Ontario Online Institute] would be. OUSA got together to determine what it should look like. We have representatives from each of our schools to develop ideas for policy and at the March general assembly we came together to brain storm ideas for what we wanted to see. We wanted to be part of the conversation,” said Meaghan Coker, President of OUSA.

The recommendations are based off analysis of different online education models both in Canada and abroad.

In particular they distinguish between consortium models, and an integrated, independent, centralized model.

The former are created by the cooperation of different participating institutions with a decentralized operating structure for admissions and student support programs and the later operates in a centralized structure separate from the individual universities.

“We went with a consortium model because of our tremendous success with the infrastructure we currently have. It would be a bit of a loss to start from scratch, instead of capitalizing on what we have now,” said Coker.

“Specifically we looked at the Open University in Australia which capitalizes on the success of a conglomerate of universities with independent policy such as admissions, institutional support.”

There are challenges anticipated for the preferred model to gain acceptance. The largest of which is seen to be getting buy-in from different universities to build legitimacy to the program, and give up a degree of independence.

“Certain universities have an elite status and reputation, which makes them want to keep them separate. It is going to take dedication from the different universities to admit they are better as a collective…thus far response has been positive, but ultimately universities are competitors, so it is a challenge,” explained Coker.

Other obstacles remain in effective implementation of the program, including the development of an adequate rural broadband network.

OUSA is confident that the program itself will provide incentive to further develop the network once it has buy-in from students, and programs like Contact North can be used as a starting point to give access to student in remote areas of Northern Ontario.

The key determinant for the long term viability of the Ontario Online Institute is to ensure quality.

Other online education opportunities like Athabasca University have an open admissions system. OUSA’s proposal will have admission criteria and a bridging system.

Coker claims that, “for students that did not have a chance to do the bricks and mortar education, to have a series of bridging programs to allow students to finish a degree in the online institute.

This will open up the entire province to benefit from this program.”

Last Wednesday OUSA held a “conversation” with staff from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, which featured a presentation from a project manager from Open University Australia to highlight the benefits of such a model to the government.

More meetings are expected in the future as the ministry reviews OUSA’s newly released vision for the Institute.

Other key recommendations

  • HST exemption for e-books to increase

    Cost savings passed on to students,
    with tuition not exceeding those for
    traditional courses

    Implementation of high entrance
    standards to preserve quality

    Continued investment in rural
    broadband access

    Make OSAP accessible to part-time
    students and provide a realistic
    funding for computers and internet

    Access to comprehensive 24-hour IT
    support, along with academic support
    such as counsellors and academic