Ontario University Professors Worried About Class Sizes, Falling Quality; Less So About Tuition Costs

CP  |  By Posted: 05/13/2012 3:00 pm Updated: 05/15/2012 12:13 pm

TORONTO - Ontario's professors are concerned about increased class sizes and the declining quality of post-secondary education, but not so much about heavy student debt-loads, a new survey suggests.

The poll, by the group that speaks for university faculty and which comes against a backdrop of collective bargaining, indicates an increase in enrolment coupled with budget cuts has compromised their ability to engage directly with students and has increased their workloads.

"We've had concerns about workload pressures, the lack of hiring (and) replacing people," said Constance Adamson, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.

"This is all adding up to an incredible strain on the system with more and more students coming through our doors."

According to the survey being released this week, 42 per cent said they believed the quality of undergraduate education at their school had declined over the past five years, while 28 per cent thought it had improved. There was a much lower level of concern about the quality of graduate education.

Almost two-thirds responded that their class sizes — which the association considers a proxy for quality — had increased over the past five years.

The concerns over quality of education and the student experience did not appear to extend to the crushing debt load many students say they face.

Asked about their priorities for a hypothetical windfall of $400 million in provincial funding, respondents overwhelmingly rated putting the money into retaining and hiring new full-time faculty.

A mere six per cent said a tuition freeze, rollback or 30 per cent tuition grant would be their No. 1 priority for spending the extra cash.

"It was probably a pretty realistic notion that the tuition argument has been lost," Adamson said, adding faculty have advocated for lower tuition for years.

"I get the sense that they've just sort of given up."

Other survey results suggest 83 per cent of respondents reported budget cuts in their department. Most also said universities had increased their use of part-time faculty.

Still, while 43 per cent of those asked said they don't have the resources to provide a quality education to their students, 42 per cent said they did.

"We're coping, but we can't keep going just coping," Adamson said.

The online survey of more than 2,000 professors and academic librarians was done between March 21 and April 16. A margin of error was not provided.

Faculty at Carleton, Nipissing, Brescia and York are among 11 schools in the middle of collective bargaining, which comes at a time when the provincial government has been leaning on the broader public sector to accept wage freezes and schools are reluctant to commit to more hiring.

"It's pretty hard bargaining," Adamson said.

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Filed by Lauren Strapagiel  |