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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