By Luc Rinaldi
Sunday marked the last chance for Ontario’s universities and colleges to formally voice their opinion on a government document that could overhaul the province’s post-secondary education system.
The discussion paper, released by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities in June, proposed three-year bachelor degree programs, year-round schooling and an increased reliance on online courses.
The document also outlined a reformed credit transfer system that would allow students to transfer all general first-and-second-year credits.
According to Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) President Rodney Diverlus, the suggested changes haven’t garnered much student support. He said the ideas discussed in the paper, entitled Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge, are vague and seem to be a response to – in the words of the document – “scarce public resources” for post-secondary institutions.
“Automatically, all the points are read with a lens of: ‘This is to save money,'” Diverlus said. “It’s not to make things better. It’s to cut costs left, right and centre.” The RSU held a town hall meeting addressing the document on Sept. 19, a week after the university held a similar meeting.
Both the school and the students’ union submitted a written response to the ministry by Sept. 30, the deadline for feedback.
The university’s submission adhered to a ministry-determined format, Diverlus said, which was comprised of vision and mission statements and three “strategic mandates” but no opportunity to actually oppose or support the paper’s proposals.
“We already know that the positions in the papers that the schools are submitting aren’t going to be that critical,” Diverlus said.
“So that means that the only critical voices are probably going to come from students or external groups.” The RSU submission included verbatim concerns from town hall attendees wary of the alleged benefits of the changes, particularly a three-year degree model.
“There hasn’t been one person that’s said that [three-year degrees] are a great idea,” Diverlus said.
“Actually, most people say that it’s a horrible idea.”
Gyula Kovacs, a ministry spokesperson, said the next step is to review the individual submissions and produce a public report on the findings later this year.
The ministry doesn’t yet have a timeline for when it will make decisions regarding the changes proposed in the discussion paper.
“The information gathered through the roundtable discussions and from written submissions will guide us on how best to achieve our goals for the modernization of Ontario’s post-secondary education sector,” Kovacs wrote in an email.
Diverlus, however, is skeptical that the submissions will have the power to halt or significantly alter the changes.
“With discussion papers, there’s often already a [direction] where people are leaning, and they just want to discuss to see how bad of an impact it will make,” he said. “Discussion papers often lead to policy.”
The model is being championed by Toronto Centre MPP Glen Murray, the minister of training, colleges and universities, and is rooted in the Bologna Process, a post-secondary system employed in nearly 40 European countries, and 50 worldwide.
“Canada,” the report reads, “is paying attention to Bologna.”