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Ontario’s Post-Secondary Education: Quantity or Quality?

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: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works queensu, Creative Commons, Flickr)

About Emma Meldrum

Student of Political Science and History at McGill University. Emma hails from a small, uninteresting city in Eastern Ontario, and enjoys leaving it as often as possible. Travelling around Canada, reading books by Canadian authors, and photographing Canadian scenery are her passions. She joined The Political Bouillon because she needed an alternative to ranting about Canadian politics to her friends and family. She hopes to combine her knowledge of history and politics into a perspective that encourages the regular Canadian to re-evaluate their culture and leaders.

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  1. Quality always trumps quantity. Education is all about imparting knowledge to the competent individuals so that they can one day contribute to our society. Ontario doesn’t need MORE universities but BETTER universities. Education is also about advertising; It’s about attracting students with financial support, scholarships and research opportunities before universities from other provinces call dibs—It’s about securing resources and Ontario should do exactly that. UofT being the front-runner of this race, other universities should learn from its admission process and most importantly, WHY IT ATTRACTS STUDENTS IN THE FIRST PLACE.

  2. Ontario used to be the manufacturing hub of Canada, with those jobs no
    longer available I think it’s more pertinent for the Ontario government
    to invest in trade schools/ colleges so those Ontarians and Ontario
    cities who used to depend on these manufacturing centres might acquire
    new and relevant skills in a changing job market and economy. Sure
    universities need more money, but the jobs for university degrees just
    aren’t there and the trades jobs are.

  3. emmers_333@hotmail.com

    Seems kinda radical, but I wonder if universities should limit enrolment in certain programs where they know there are fewer jobs and open more spots where there aren’t enough people? Would certainly give students some security as they take out student loans.

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