Thoughts on Ontario Higher Education (Part 2)

I’ve been writing recently about my reactions to the Three New Campuses Symposium at OISE, University of Toronto.

At the conference George Fallis (York University) provocatively asked:

“Do we actually need three new campuses or universities?”

This question shocked me since I assumed the data from MTCU and Clark et al. (Academic Reform and Academic Transformation) was solid. And it still might be. However, Fallis suggested that we already have the capacity we need and Dan Lang (OISE, UofT) suggested that the labour market really doesn’t need a higher percentage of grads. So, capacity exists and additional demand is not there. As result new campuses would be a huge waste of tax dollars. Whew. Didn’t see that coming.

Here’s how it works (as reported by Louise Brown in the Toronto Star):

Here’s his math: If there are roughly 180,000 18-year-olds in Ontario and 75 per cent, or 135,000, go on to higher education (45 per cent in university and 30 per cent in college), and you then multiply the number of students in university by four years and the number of students in college by 2.5 years, the province would have 459,000 students in the system at any one time. But Ontario actually funds 572,000 students to be in the system at any given time, said Fallis, “meaning we have pretty much universal higher education already.” Instead, Fallis said Ontario should bolster graduate education and research — the opposite of what Clark and Trick recommend.

Of course part of math here is that some of the students currently in universities and colleges shouldn’t be there. They aren’t really suited to this and should be in apprenticeships or out in the labour force. This is a position reinforced by Lang (for economic reasons) and Campus Confidential (for quality reasons). There is an increasing discussion about the need to limit, not expand, access to higher education (particularly universities) in order to sustain quality.

My guess is that the government is responding only partially to the “knowledge economy” argument in its move to expand access. Financial data show that going to university leads to higher lifetime earnings. Families want their children to be economically successful. Hence, going to university (whether that is the best option for their children or not) is the socially expected route. Ensuring access to universities is a means to keep voters happy. Tie that to the tuition rebate program and you have lots of happiness.

So, maybe you don’t need more spaces or more graduates (Fallis/Lang) but you do need contented voters (Government of Ontario). Hence, we will build them, they will come, but we shouldn’t and they shouldn’t. Strange days indeed. Who said higher education policy was boring?

BTW Lang also observed that if faculty shifted their distribution of work from 40-40-20 (teaching/research/service) to 45-35-20 it would accommodate 35,000 more student spaces. Hmmm.


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

This entry was posted in HigherEd, Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *