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Leaked Report from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities

Monday, October 1, 2012

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Written by Peter Miller

Two Reports

Ontario Post-Secondary education may be facing some drastic changes in the near future. Last Spring, the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities released a report called “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge.” The report was released shortly after the Three Cubed Report was leaked from the same Ministry.

The Three Cubed Report calls for Ontario students to take 3 out of 5 of their classes online each semester, proposes a strategy to make three year undergraduate degrees the new standard, and also calls for students to go to school during the summer semester, making the average school year  three semesters and not two.

During the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario’s Annual General Meeting this past summer, student union representatives from across Ontario got the opportunity to ask Minister Glen Murray questions about the two documents. Consensus amongst students at the meeting was that the proposed reforms are unwelcome.

At one point Glenn Murray even told students at the meeting that many students were skipping class anyway, so it would be good to implement more online courses. Students were shocked at the generalization that was made by Murray.

Worrying Potential Impacts on Education

The Cannon.ca caught up with Dominica McPherson, the Central Student Associations External Affairs Commissioner to learn more about the proposal, and how it will affect students if goals in the two reports are implemented.

Mcpherson is worried that the government is looking towards online education as a way to save money. “This will inevitably result in lower quality” Mcpherson said.

As well, a push for year-long learning becoming the new norm is worrying for the External Affairs Commissioner.  Mcpherson believes the idea for 3 semesters to become the new norm is appealing for the government as a way to get students in the labour market quicker.

However, she made sure to state that “Ontario students suffer from the highest tuition fees in the country and need their summers to work. If the government wants students in and out of school quicker, it needs to recognize that a significant barrier to completion for a number of students is the burden of tuition fees and resulting debt.” 

When it comes to the possible implementation of three year degrees, Mcpherson criticized the provincial government telling the cannon.ca that “3 year degrees are not the standard in other Canadian provinces or many countries around the world which brings into question transferability and its comparability to a former 4 year degree for employers.”

The Further Privatization of Post-secondary Education

Mcpherson was asked if the reports are examples of the further privatization of education in Ontario and stated “Neither of these reports present any indication of the government considering increasing its funding to the post-secondary education sector, in fact they present the opposite with an emphasis on cost savings to the government.”

The cost saving measures will certainly result in lower quality in education if they are implemented, when Ontario already has the largest class sizes out of the all of the provinces.

The MTCU reports can also be compared to the Bologna Process that European countries have been implementing during the 2000’s. The Bologna Process introduced shorter degrees, more online learning, and more standardized learning in Europe. Under the Bologna Process European countries have seen the further privatization of education and higher tuition fees.

Students at the CFS AGM over the summer also took part in a workshop by Graham Cox, a National Research Representative for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, about the Marketization of Education. During the workshop, he criticized the Bologna process in Europe, as well as the Ontario Government for moving in the direction of Bologna. He told delegates that students need to mobilize in order to combat the changes to post-secondary education that the Ontario Liberal Government will push through if it gets the chance. He told participants that more online courses, 3 year degrees, as well as discussion about standardized testing in Ontario were are all attacks on critical academia.

According to Cox, shorter degrees, online learning, and standardized testing are done with the labour market in mind. Instead of university institutions fostering critical thought and basic research for its own sake, the reforms in the MTCU reports would allow students to get in and out of university quickly, achieving a standardized education with an emphasis on providing the needs for the labour market. An emphasis on creating a population with critical thought that is so essential for the betterment of society would be left behind.

Mcpherson, who was at this workshop, did well at summarizing broad issues with the MTCU reports.

"What we are seeing is post-secondary education being valued less for its ability to foster critical thought and academic freedom, and more for its contributions to the market economy. As the marketization of our post-secondary education increases, we are seeing education defined less as a public good and more as a private good.”

The result of education being defined as a private good is lower accessibility, higher tuition fees, and expanding debt for students.

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