Specialization proposal has flaws that require attention
Last month, a leaked document outlined the government intention to urge universities to differentiate themselves from each other and specialize, resulting in “niche” programs. The plan is meant to benefit educators, institutions, communities and students while promoting quality education at sustainable costs. Despite the good intentions of the proposed policy, a basic examination of the plan reveals several flaws and potential problems. Moving forward, these issues have to be considered by the government in shaping their perspective on post-secondary education.
The government is not in a position to dictate what is best for schools, students or the post-secondary education system at large. Government input is highly valued and expected but universities have a better idea of what their staff and students require and how their institutions relate to the community. If post-secondary institutions and the government are at odds over how to move forward with respect to programs offered and specialization, there has to be a balanced approach on any new wide-reaching policy changes.
The creation of niche programs will restrict students by limiting what courses and programs they have access to. Even if part of the flagship program, there is value in complementing degrees with minors or a variety of elective courses to attain a more complete university experience. In addition, students that are not part of the specialized program may feel disenfranchised. If certain programs are going to be focused on, it will inevitably lead universities to prioritize, leaving students and staff lacking attention and funding.
The importance of a balanced education should not be overlooked. Students should be encouraged to graduate university as well-rounded individuals with a wide range of skills and experiences. A diversity of experiences and skills, academic and otherwise, is an asset when applying to graduate programs and entering the workforce. Employers are looking for individuals not limited by narrow-mindedness or a singular worldview. Most jobs and careers require a big picture understanding of the world and a diverse set of skills, especially in regard to technology and languages.
By educating students in niche programs we would be limiting their marketability come graduation and creating a degree of groupthink syndrome on university campuses. Universities cannot be everything to everyone; it isn’t sustainable financially or desirable for students. However, diversity and well roundedness, even within a specialized institution, should be embraced, not left behind.