Monday, July 30, 2007

Post-secondary Education - Demographic Challenges

According to this morning's Globe and Mail, the three Toronto universities - U of T, York and Ryerson - are expecting their admission demands to continue to rise over the next two decades. This is a sharp contrast to virtually every other region of the country, where enrollments are expected to either plateau or drop. According to the article's author, this demand is being driven largely by immigration trends to the city.

The manner in which this article is couched seems to imply that this situation entails a crisis for the three universities and that an appropriate response would be to further both inncrease admissions at these institutions and expand their campuses. I'm not convinced that this is necessarily the route to go, and am worried about the sustainability of this option.

Part of my thinking about this issue reflects the fact that I'm not convinced that students should have to attend university in the city they grew up in. Indeed, there is a lot to be said for attending a university which has program offerings that better meet an individual's needs - and a fair bit to be said for getting out of the family home and striking out on one's own. Moreover, there is also the question of what dropping enrollments at other universities means for the future of those institutions. Throughout the Maritimes, for example, universities are already unable to meet their enrollment targets. Eventually, this may mean shrinking faculties and a decline in the quality of education available at these (and other) institutions. A better approach might be to look seriously at student loan/scholarship programs to allow students to attend universities in other cities.

I also look at this from the perspective of students already at the Toronto institutions. I did my undergrad at U of T in the 1990s, and it was already too large for the comfort of most students. Class sizes are out of control in first and second year courses, and I worry what even larger student body numbers would mean for the experience of the students (and the faculty, for that matter). At a certain point, the quality of education at these institutions is likely to suffer from over-expansion.

Two other points come to mind. The first is that there are numerous universities (McMaster, Guelph, Brock, Laurier, Waterloo, Western, Trent, Queen's) within a 2-3 hour drive from Toronto, which could accommodate some of this projected demand, and are close enough for weekend trips for those students reluctant to move too far from home.

Finally, did I read correctly that there are plans for another university in Sault Ste. Marie? This strikes me as a spectacularly bad idea. The northern Ontario universities already have terrible problems with faculty recruitment and retention, and I doubt this institution will fare any better. Again, I think it would be better to make it easier for northern students to afford residence fees than to build yet more new institutions which are local, yet lack the amenities and faculty calibre of their southern equivalents.

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At 1:59 pm, Anonymous U of T Watcher said...

Interesting that the article only cited the St. George campus - during the double cohort, rapid growth was projected for both UTSC and UTM [the suburban campuses] and large develpments continue on both, in order to accommodate a projected doubling of enrollment. the St. George campus continues to grow and evolve.

The university's current academic plan [Stepping Up] calls for a more intensive use of facilities year-round. It also looks at attracting and retaining outstanding undergrad from other schools.

At the same time, U of T is tying itself in knots trying to figure out how to 'enhance the student experience'...although no one seems quite sure what that means.

U of T recently filled several key administrative posts with Liberal -affiliated functionaries.

This story was a sophisticated media ploy to secure funding in the next provincial and [pray-for-it] federal election.

The university communities beyond the City should be appalled at the cynical cash grab.

U of T Watcher


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