In the 2011 Speech from the Throne, Lieutenant Governor David Onley made a commitment to building three new undergraduate campuses. In a recent email from a representative in the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities, it was confirmed that the government of Ontario would like to provide funding for 60,000 new post-secondary education spaces. While the host communities have not yet been chosen, towns like Cornwall have begun the long road of researching and gathering funding for a potential new school.
At first glance, their not-yet-laid plans seem well-intentioned, with only positive results. The Ontario government is interested in, if not committed to, investing in the future of its students. More campuses in small towns will allow for interested teenagers from rural areas to attend university. The government is concerned that these students do not have the means to live away from home in a bigger city and it believes that investing in new campuses has the potential to solve this problem. Since Ontario’s leadership has not specified whether they would like to found entirely new universities, there is the potential for growth for already-established institutions. So there should be no problem, right?
Not quite. Despite its great potential, there are more than a few major flaws with the government’s idea. The most obvious one is the cost. This government is apparently having money problems (cancelling power plants, cutting teachers’ benefits). Where is it getting the capital to make such a huge investment? It seems unlikely that once it’s established, a university can offer quality education while balancing the books in a truly rural area in Ontario.
So what are the alternatives to investing in new universities? First and foremost, the Ontario government should look into providing more funding for universities that are still trying to establish an international name for themselves. In the New York Times University Rankings, only two institutions in Ontario rank in the top 100: University of Toronto and McMaster. Canadian students don’t need new universities to be competitive with the rest of the world – they need better universities.
Moreover, if the leaders at Queen’s Park are more interested in the new and shiny, how about more colleges? The federal government recently created a new set of laws to allow for more skilled trades people to immigrate to Canada. It cited the need to fill the growing gap in the trades. If they were concerned about needing more skilled workers, would this not be an excellent opportunity for both levels of government to combine resources and invest in young Ontarians’ potential as workers in applied fields? The need for more trades people has already been stressed, and if a new college is placed in a rural area, it will meet two of the government’s goals.
Additionally, Ontario’s leaders can invest in more loans and grants program if they want to diminish the financial burden of post-secondary education. The system has been very effective so far, and has the potential for financial gains thanks to the accumulation of interest (though the rate is definitely set to ease the student’s burden).
Last but not least, Bachelor of Arts students are constantly being told that their job prospects are few, that colleges offer better applied learning, that all the jobs are in the trades. The government is sending the wrong message to young teens considering universities by opening thousands of undergraduate slots. Now is the time to improve college education to give young Ontarians, and other Canadians for that matter, a fighting chance in an increasingly competitive job market.
Of course, all this is hypothetical. Since the Speech from the Throne in 2011, Ontario has experienced many changes, the most important of which being an upcoming change in Premier from Dalton McGuinty to Kathleen Wynne. No indication has been given as to whether new investments in post-secondary education will continue to be a priority. One can only hope that before acting, the government will deign to consult with the young people whose future they hope to improve.
– Emma Meldrum
(Featured photo: queensu, Creative Commons, Flickr)