I’ve had several people contact me to ask what is the Ontario Online Institute? It was announced by the Ontario Provincial Government in the Throne Speech to the legislature on March 8.
The first thing to note is that the Province of Ontario, traditionally the most prosperous of all the Canadian provinces, has been one of the hardest hit by the recession. In particular the forestry, mining and auto industries are very large in Ontario and have been particularly hard hit. However, the government did as many other jurisdictions and invested heavily in both the car industry and in public infrastructure projects to lessen the impact of the recession (forestry and mining has had to take its lumps). As a result Ontario has a $21 billion debt (3.3% of GDP), which it plans to eliminate mainly through economic growth over seven years (which most economists believe is unlikely).
What is really interesting is that despite the terrible provincial economy, the government has actually increased spending in higher education, because (rightly, in my view) it sees education as the way to prosperity in the future. Its plan for post-secondary education includes the following goals (from the Throne Speech):
- to increase the participation rate in post-secondary education from its current 62% to 70% (to match the number of jobs requiring some form of post-secondary education)
- an increase of 20,000 students ‘this year’
- every qualified Ontarian who wants to go to college or university will find a place
- a new, five-year plan to improve the quality of Ontario’s post-secondary education system
- a new Ontario Online Institute, bringing the best professors in the top programs at Ontario universities to the homes of those who want to pursue this new option for higher learning
- promote Ontario post-secondary institutions abroad, and increase international enrolment by 50 per cent while maintaining spaces for Ontario students.
There are 22 universities and 24 community colleges in Ontario.
OntarioLearn.com is a consortium of 22 Ontario Community Colleges who have partnered to develop and deliver on-line courses. Each partner college selects courses from the OntarioLearn.com course inventory that will complement its existing distance education offerings. This partnership approach has allowed member colleges to optimize resource use, avoid duplication and, more importantly, increase the availability of on-line learning opportunities for their students. There is a similar organization for the k-12 sector, eLearning Ontario
However, there is no such similar organization for Ontario universities, although many of them offer online courses. One of the main reasons for this is that, unlike British Columbia for instance – see http://www.bctransferguide.ca/ – there is no central credit transfer system between the universities in Ontario (although individual universities may have specific credit transfer agreements with specific colleges for specific programs: see http://www.ocutg.on.ca/).
In practice, if you are married and live in Thunder Bay and start a course at Lakehead University, and at the end of the second year your husband changes his job and moves to Toronto, and you want to transfer your 60 credits from Lakehead to York University, basically you can’t. You have to start again. (This is not the case in BC: 40 per cent of third year students at its premier research university, UBC, have transferred in from other universities elsewhere in the province. They usually do at least as well as the students who enrolled in the first year).
Thus in Ontario there is no ‘official’ site of online university courses for all the universities in the province. There is no point. If you are at York University and want to take an online course from the University of Guelph, tough – you cannot count it for credit, unless you can find a professor who will make an exception (and most don’t.)
Now coming back to the Ontario Online Institute. There is as I write absolutely no further information on this, except that there is money for it in the post-secondary education budget. However, whatever it does, it needs to find a way to enable students in any part of a very large province (Germany and France combined in terms of area) to study fully online if they wish, and to leverage the existing investment in online courses by the universities. However, very few universities in Ontario (Guelph and Laurentian may be exceptions) have complete degree programs fully online. Indeed, Athabasca University – based 2,500 kilometres away in Alberta – has many students from Ontario taking its distance education programs, because that’s the only way at the moment to do a full degree online in the program of your choice if you live in Ontario.
So there is a lot of work to be done in Ontario if it is to attract lifelong learners, under-served groups such as aboriginals, immigrants without Canadian high school qualifications, those who for whatever reason dropped out of high school, those living and working in remote areas, those moving because of work reasons in the middle of a degree program, indeed anyone wanting a flexible way to do a degree. Let’s hope the Ontario Online Institute, whatever its shape or form, manages to tackle this issue.
Now if I’m wrong, and you can transfer easily between universities in Ontario, then let me know and I will eat humble pie.