Thoughts on Ontario Higher Education (Part 4)

I’ve been exploring a number of issues related to higher education in Ontario as the “system” prepares for both enrolment increases and budget constraints.

Today’s 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.

If the data is correct, universities outside the GTA will increasing struggle to meet enrolment targets (with the resulting budget implications). Frankly many have been dealing with this for many years. It’s going to get worse. Attracting transfer students from colleges will help; encouraging re-training and upgrading opportunities will help. But not enough. The bread and butter of Ontario universities are the 18-24 year old crowd and they are either diminishing or staying in the GTA.

Disaster for universities outside the GTA? No. Opportunity.

This, to me, is where institutional differentiation (of which there has been a tremendous amount of talk and noise) comes in. Universities can establish themselves as exemplars of innovative pedagogy (the marketing folks will call it something far more palatable but you get the idea).

Look at what Algoma University is doing with their Block Plan. Innovative and risky. But also likely to attract certain kinds of students (and faculty).

The First Year Seminar programs are great; why not amp these up and build an entire theme curriculum throughout the undergraduate experience? Construct degrees around problems not disciplines.

There doesn’t have to be agreement that this is the “best” way to do this; just agreement that there are many ways to innovate and provide a vibrant, engaging, and effective learning experience. For this see Taking Stock (Julia Christensen Hughes & Joy Mighty). Universities outside the GTA have a wonderful opportunity to differentiate themselves around innovative learning and teaching. Doing so will attract students from all parts of Ontario; it will be a destination of choice.

At the OISE symposium, referring to the proposed three new Ontario campuses, Theresa Shanahan (York University) said “Let student learning shape these new institutions.” The universities to do this, really do this, will be rewarded with enthusiastic students (and their tuition dollars).

Next questions (and last post in this series):
So, now what? What does this all mean?

….Mike

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