October 4, 2023

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What are universities for? Canadian greater schooling is at a vital crossroads

What are universities for? Canadian greater schooling is at a vital crossroads

In recent times, Canadian provinces equivalent to Ontario and Alberta have been making an attempt to repurpose and reprogram our universities to extra narrowly serve the labour market. They’re doing so by adopting performance-based funding in essentially the most profound modifications the sector has witnessed in many years.

These profound modifications are encapsulated by the statements of former Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who stated his authorities was “attempting to retool the schooling system.”

Final yr, Kenney stated authorities funding for universities ought to align with the wants of the labour market and criticized college arts applications which he claimed offered “very poor” employment prospects for graduates.

It’s unsettling to contemplate the long-term trajectory and the implications of narrowing universities of their scope to extra carefully emulate technical and coaching schools and the way wherein they serve the present labour market and trade.

Universities already characteristic a various mixture of vocational {and professional} coaching applications in addition to extra broadly targeted and versatile undergraduate and graduate levels. There may be little to be gained, and far to be misplaced, by making an attempt to show universities and schools into lesser and extra convoluted variations of each other.

Each are vital to offer a sturdy and numerous schooling system.

What are universities for? Canadian greater schooling is at a vital crossroads
Graduates hear throughout a convocation ceremony at Simon Fraser College, in Burnaby, B.C.

The college’s contributions

Responding to related debates in the UK, former English literature professor Stefan Collini provocatively requested, “What are universities for?” It’s now time Canadians ask that very same query.

In that spirit we on the College of Regina have set to collect many nationwide and worldwide students, heads of funding businesses, directors and policy-makers to interact in discussions on the subject on the appropriately entitled symposium: What Are Universities For? Exploring roles, challenges, conflicting tensions, and promising re-imaginings.

The challenges going through tutorial establishments demand that we ask such questions, and that we begin to grapple with what the solutions may be and the legacy we’re leaving the following era.

The college is an entity like no different, and will maybe be extra precisely described as a “multiversity.” City geography scholar Jean-Paul Addie has listed seven social and financial methods universities profit society: Being financial engines, altering the face of a metropolis, attracting international expertise, constructing worldwide connections, serving to to deal with societal challenges, fostering creativity and open debate and enhancing individuals’s lives.

Learn extra:
Seven methods universities profit society

A man speaks to a classroom of students.
Universities are about greater than making ready individuals for the workforce. They foster essential analysis and educate college students tips on how to assume critically.

What are universities for?

At their core, universities are establishments charged with performing educating, analysis and repair. Universities are immensely numerous and fairly adept at integrating quite a lot of conflicting calls for and functions: From fostering ground-breaking scientific analysis, to transmitting and critiquing data, to supplying lecturers for our colleges and medical personnel to our hospitals.

Intriguingly, in case you ask the scholars themselves in regards to the function of upper schooling, the reply is: it relies upon. Analysis has discovered the way in which college students view universities is contingent on how a lot the schooling prices.

In nations like Denmark, Germany and Poland, the place governments present larger monetary assist for college college students, there may be larger emphasis on the social advantages of upper schooling. Universities are seen as contributing to a extra enlightened and reflective society, and serving to their nation to be seen extra competitively worldwide.

Learn extra:
What is the function of college? Your reply might rely upon how a lot it prices you

Nevertheless, in England, Eire and Spain, the place college students are anticipated to shoulder extra of the monetary value of their college schooling, they have been extra more likely to see it as a way to employment.

Canada ought to keep away from pitting these conceptions of upper schooling towards each other. We should respect the various and various advantages of an inclusive, accessible and sturdy post-secondary schooling system.

Canada’s crossroads second

Present traits in Canada are an ideal trigger for alarm. Ontario ranks final within the nation for college funding as a proportion of complete income. The federal government of Alberta has just lately slashed tons of of hundreds of thousands in funding from the province’s universities. Each provinces are the primary to topic their universities to narrowly conceived funding metrics.

Canadians should notice that we’re at a vital juncture. Canada’s universities shouldn’t be an enviornment for shortsighted and partisan politicking. We urgently must ask ourselves what sort of society we hope to take care of, foster and create and hyperlink that to how universities can greatest serve that society.