Thoughts on Ontario Higher Education (Part 3)

My reflections (or ramblings, you choose) on Ontario higher education continue. BTW Glen Jones let me know that the video and many of the PPTs from the symposium are now available. Excellent resources.

Today’s questions: But what about the colleges?
Can’t they pick up these new students?
Why don’t some of them become universities?

Lots of discussion at the symposium about whether a teaching focused university (as recommended by Clark et al.) is actually a university. The definitive case around teaching focused universities is made in Academic Reform (Clark, Trick, Skolnik, & Moran) and Academic Transformation (Clark, Trick, & Van Loon). They clearly have no trouble with this and illustrate examples from many other jurisdictions. Essential reading.

However, Ontario has had a different history and as a result has developed different higher education components. A magic policy wand does not make a college into a university.

Perhaps the model is not the colleges as they are now, where the research mandate is very small and restricted (and will likely remain so), but rather the liberal arts colleges (universities in our terms) in the U.S. that have high quality teaching and renowned researchers. Of course the tuition there is absurd so we would have a bit of work to do on that aspect.

In his presentation Ian Clark referred to Mount Royal University and Grant McEwan University, both in Alberta, as useful examples of teaching institutions (and cautioned that the B.C. model may be a bit “complicated”).

A number of folks highlighted that some colleges are already essentially teaching institutions at the university level (presentations from Sheridan and Seneca; discussions with folks from Georgian). So, let them offer more degrees or turn them into universities (while also obligating them to continue to offer diploma programs as well). OK. But.

Universities and colleges are funded very differently. Becoming a university makes you eligible for larger BIUs (the provincial funding unit), research dollars, and other financial advantages. Is all this just a resource grab? Perhaps but let’s assume altruism and a concern for student learning are the real motivations.

What is needed? A number of complementary options:

  • A 2+2 model that actually works. Lots of models on how to do this. Not difficult. Get on with it.
  • A sustained diploma capacity that continues, even expands, the capacity for some colleges to perform their original vocationally focused mandate (not every college wants to offer degrees or become a university). More resources for apprenticeships would be an excellent start.
  • A conversion of some colleges into teaching universities with a mandate to offer degrees and diplomas. This will require: new faculty, distinct curricula, revised admission processes, better library resources, and a host of other upgrades. $$$.

However, we already have university/college partnerships which model this type of teaching university and they are very effective. The University of Guelph Humber (warning: conflict of interest) is an excellent example of what can be done. Also BTW the University of Guelph has been offering diplomas as well as degrees for many, many years (the Diploma in Agriculture from UofG is an excellent credential).

So, should Sheridan or Seneca or another college become a university? Sure. If the mandate is clear, the commitment to teaching (and the scholarship of teaching) is demonstrated and passionate, and this qualification is sufficiently rigorous and recognized to allow these students to move on to graduate schools.

But this new animal in the higher ed bestiary in Ontario. We’ve struggled before with the polytechnics and the ITALs. If colleges are to become this new type of university that offers degrees and diplomas, then we need to figure out the overarching system in which they reside. Yes, this is another call for a coherent higher education system in Ontario.

Next question: If new enrolment is concentrated around the GTA, what are all the other universities going to do to sustain themselves?
I say: pedagogical innovation.

BTW Glen Jones has launched a new website for his higher education research group. Well worth a look.


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One Response to Thoughts on Ontario Higher Education (Part 3)

  1. Mark Roman says:

    Great blog post!

    If Ontario moves some colleges to university status I hope they take their time do it right and put the appropriate process in place. Several colleges were renamed universities in BC quite abruptly. The BC government did not nuture the evolution from college to university for these institutions. Nor did they invest the significant time and years of planning that some other institutions like Mt. Royal or Ryerson took to make the same change. In BC we got the sequence wrong. First, we declared these colleges “universities.” Then we asked them to figure how to do it.

    Mark Roman

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