New universities for Ontario

TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Fri Oct 14 2011.   David Trick

Ontario’s newly re-elected Liberal government has promised to create three new, leading-edge undergraduate campuses. Done right, these universities will be an opportunity to provide a higher-quality education for students at a more affordable cost.

The new campuses will be badly needed. Over the past decade, Ontario’s universities have made room for 50 per cent more undergraduate students. The main campuses of York and U of T now rank among the six largest campuses in Canada and the U.S. Both are fine institutions, but research has confirmed that big universities find it hard to provide the interaction between faculty and students that helps students succeed.

The number of students who want to attend university in the GTA is expected to grow by 30,000 to 50,000 or more by 2025. That’s in addition to the many students who will attend college or enter a skilled trade. Students know that higher education provides no guarantees, but it opens more doors than a high-school diploma alone.

What might the new universities look like? Here are some features to look for.

Their mission should focus on student learning. They should aim to teach skills like critical thinking, problem-solving and effective communication. They should be held accountable for proving that students have actually learned these skills before graduating.

They should offer programs that meet emerging economic needs. The programs would include a mix of professional and general arts degrees, any of which would prepare graduates to enter the workplace or pursue graduate studies.

The faculty should focus on teaching. This is where the traditional university model falls short for many students. Faculty at traditional universities must spend as much time on research as on teaching. Typically, they teach only four one-semester courses a year. That’s why traditional universities need big lecture halls. That’s why some hire part-time faculty to do 50 per cent or more of their teaching.

In contrast, the typical workload for a professor at a teaching-oriented university might be 80 per cent teaching, 10 per cent research and 10 per cent service to the community. This means teaching eight one-semester courses per year. Classes are held 26 weeks per year, leaving the other 26 weeks for preparing courses, marking exams, conducting research and vacation.

Students at the new universities will benefit because class sizes will be smaller and students will have more direct contact with faculty. A new university could be financially viable with a typical class of about 45 students (with variations, of course) and with about 30 per cent of classes being taught by part-time faculty.

New technologies should be integrated into the curriculum. We might expect every student to take at least one course per semester through e-learning or a hybrid of e-learning and in-class instruction. By graduation, they will have demonstrated the ability to learn independently — preparing them for a world in which most learning takes place outside the classroom.

The new universities should have a student-focused research mission. They should not seek to become comprehensive research universities or add to the number of universities seeking to train master’s and doctoral students. Faculty should pursue research on how to improve undergraduate student learning in their disciplines.

Can a cash-strapped government afford to create new universities? This teaching-oriented model will actually be more affordable than creating new campuses based on the traditional university model.

Suppose we compare two new universities with 10,000 students — one teaching-oriented, the other based on the traditional model. A detailed financial analysis prepared for our new book,Academic Reform, shows the teaching-oriented university could balance its budget while offering students classes that are 44 per cent smaller than the traditional university. It could also offer lower tuition, saving students $2,000 over their four-year programs.

That’s the difference that comes from having full-time faculty who spend less time on research and more time teaching. Far from being too expensive, the teaching-oriented university would be a more affordable way to provide high-quality baccalaureate education for a growing number of students.

Many U.S. states have high-quality teaching-oriented universities. Alberta and B.C. have introduced them, too. They operate alongside great research universities where outstanding researchers make their essential contributions. Students choose the type of campus that best meets their learning needs.

The Ontario government should seize the opportunity to create universities that will provide high-quality learning at an affordable cost for a growing student population.

David Trick, a former assistant deputy minister for post-secondary education in Ontario, is co-author of Academic Reform: Policy Options for Improving the Quality and Cost-Effectiveness of Undergraduate Education in Ontario (with Ian D. Clark and Richard Van Loon), to be published Nov. 2 by McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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1 Comment

  1. Every individual has a different way of learning, therefore in my opinion this idea of creating three new undergraduate campuses in Ontario would be extremely beneficial in meeting many student’s needs. While reading this article I was shocked to realize the number of students who want to attend university is expected to grow by 30,000 to 50,000 or more by the year 2025. As I expected the number to increase, I did not expect this number to be such a drastic change in such a short period of time (only 14 years from now). I was very impressed and pleased with this statistic as post-secondary education in my opinion is very important, especially in today’s day and age to get well-paying, reliable employment. However, the cost of post-secondary education is a huge barrier for many as they do not have the necessary funds to attend school despite their personal desire. The idea of more affordable education would help those who are struggling to pursue their dreams with the education they deserve. This would not only be beneficial for the student, it would also help them obtain good employment to provide for themselves as well as their families, helping them be financially stable. This in turn would lower the amount of individuals relying on government programs such as welfare, which would then help society as a whole.
    This article expresses many valuable considerations that the school will potentially be offering. The three new undergraduate campuses will be cost efficient, have smaller classes to offer more one-on-one time with the professor, as well as students will be required to take one online course per year. I feel that these are great strategies to offer students as most schools do not have these same features. I can relate to the small class sizes as I find it very helpful to have more one-on-one time with the professor. Reasoning behind my choice at Laurentian University is because class sizes are much smaller than the majority of schools, assisting me in getting the necessary personal support from teachers. In my opinion, being known by name instead of a student number is extremely beneficial as it promotes an individualized approach to education. I also find that the yearly mandatory online course is a great idea for students as technology is such a major requirement in today’s society, most employment opportunities will require at least basic computer skills, if not more advanced. Overall I strongly support this idea and I believe it would be very beneficial in many ways that would help the students succeed in post-secondary education.

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