OUSA (2012) Educated Reform: Striving for Higher Quality of Education at Ontario’s Universities Toronto ON: Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance

Ontario (2012) Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge Toronto ON: Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance has produced a professional and thoughtful response to the Provincial government’s discussion paper calling for a transformation of the post-secondary system in Ontario. This is a very short and selected review of a detailed paper which is well worth reading in full.

I can do no better than quote from their executive summary:

There is much that can be done to improve the student experience without a large infusion of new funds from student tuition or government grants. Educated Reform proposes low-cost, cost-neutral and savings proposals that not only achieve the Government’s stated goals of improved productivity and innovation, but also addresses the responsibility of a creative economy to those being educated: a demanding, engaging, high quality student experience

While what they propose is not particularly new or innovative, they make some sensible suggestions that fit their criteria. In particular I have focused on three proposals that are relevant to online learning:

  • implement teaching chairs and gradually create larger teaching focused faculty streams
  • adopting the pan-Canadian protocol on the transfer of credits
  • finalizing a vision of an Ontario Online Institute.

The first two are first serves into the universities’ court. The balance between rewards for research and rewards for teaching is now so out of whack in Western Universities that it is becoming a cause for systemic failure. Students and taxpayers are paying more and more for less and less teaching from tenured faculty. This policy is entirely within the control of the universities, but unfortunately faculty self-interest is likely to override student needs. The faculty will just call the first serve out, even though it is perfectly good.

It is also hard from someone outside the province to understand why transfer of credits within the Ontario post-secondary system is so difficult. This is a cause of a great deal of wasted money, as students who have completed one or two years at completely respectable universities are often forced to start their studies all over again if they move to, or even worse, within Ontario to another university. BC and Alberta have for many years had a comprehensive and rational system of credit transfer that works really well, so it’s not as if there are not models that work. This is one area where the universities can and should give some ground. It would make a lot of difference to many students and would greatly improve the cost-effectiveness of the system, especially with respect to enabling students to complete degrees through taking online courses. To quote the OUSA report:

Given that Ontario already offers over thousands of online courses, the only thing stopping these courses from being mobile between post-secondary institutions is poor credit transfer arrangements. 

The third proposal made by OUSA on the Ontario Online Institute is more a return of serve back to the Minister. The discussion paper asks ‘How could a degree- and diploma-granting Ontario Online Institute interface with existing institutions?’ The students response is that ‘an organized collection of current Ontario online course offerings makes the most sense’, which is a proposal the Minister already had on his desk following system-wide consultation before the discussion paper was issued. To quote the OUSA report again:

Students put forward a vision for the Ontario Online Institute in 2010, which recommended that the institute be designed as a consortium of universities and colleges that would share online courses, resources and infrastructure. In this model, the institution that granted the majority of the credits would confer the degree, similar to the way the Open Universities Australia operates.

So far, game to the students. The quality of this report bodes well for the future of Ontario if it is in the students’ hands. I hope the universities and the Minister are listening.


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