THE BLOG

Who Benefits and Who Loses Out at Ontario Universities Today?

05/22/2015 04:45 EDT | Updated 05/22/2015 04:59 EDT
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Group of friends (16-19) studying outdoors, elevated view

Undergraduate Students: Grade F

This is the most important group of people in the entire sector. They are getting increased tuition, poorer class choice, less teaching by permanent faculty, more teaching by precariously paid contract teaching staff. The only slight glimmer is that there are some new student residences on some campuses, as universities work to attract more students to extract money from. This group is increasingly badly served by the sector. They graduate with a high debt load.

Graduate Students: Grade F

This group represents our future leaders of policy, innovation and wealth creation. These people are exploited badly by the university sector. Many have to pay high tuition fees, which is only partially compensated by employment at the university in Teaching Assistant roles. They carry out essential teaching and research duties, both of which benefit the university greatly. Strikes at York and University of Toronto are a symptom of the increasing disenchantment of this group. At both institutions, the strike had strong support from undergraduate students, and from permanent faculty, who do appreciate the importance of their role.

Professors: Grade D-

The permanent teaching and research staff of the university sector. They have done reasonably well in terms of compensation, but the number of permanent positions has failed to keep up with increases in student numbers. This has resulted in more service and committee work for this group, reducing the amount of time they can devote to teaching and research. The myth of "lazy professors" still abounds, and so they tend to get the blame for most of the problems in the University sector. This is plain wrong. Most professors are extremely dedicated and hard-working individuals who put in 50-60 hours per week. They are gradually being swamped under piles of administrative tasks.

Contract Teaching Staff: Grade F

This group is now utterly essential at all Ontario universities. They used to be mostly either graduate students teaching an occasional course for teaching experience, or subject specialists who had a permanent job elsewhere and taught a class on the side, examples being lawyers, architects and public servants. There has been a rapid expansion of their numbers because the university has now subverted this role into teaching the core courses which should be taught by permanent staff. As contract labour is many times cheaper (say three to five times cheaper) than permanent staff, the Universities love the idea of employing this group, but treat them with complete contempt. This group has no job security and very poor benefits (if any).

The Province: Grade D-

The province is still (just) the majority stakeholder, apart from the students. It pays for about 50 per cent of the university budget. This is much less than all other provinces in Canada. The province has been cutting back on funding, while encouraging more people to go to university. This means that there are now students and graduates with significant levels of student debt. This is a long term economic liability for the Province, as debt ridden individuals hold off on major purchases such as houses and cars, delay marriage and starting families. In the short term the province is trying to save money to deal with the current deficit, but is storing up trouble in the future. The Province does not exercise much control on how the money given to the university sector is spent.

Employers in Ontario: Grade C

There are plenty of people at university desperate for part time work, so the fast-food, coffee-shop and retail sectors are doing nicely. There are plenty of cheap part time employees around. Employers seeking graduates are complaining that the skills exhibited by graduates are deficient, particularly in critical thinking, numeracy and literacy. The university sector should recognize that these are things which need to be corrected. How it is to be done without employing any more teachers with a long term view has not been mentioned. Employers should be able to assume that a graduate has these skills, but should not have a free ride and assume that they will be able to take a graduate and not invest in some specialized training for their own particular needs.

The Construction Industry: B

The construction industry has benefited rather nicely from current university policy. The university has invested heavily in real estate and shiny new buildings for flagship projects. The industry would have done even better if universities had actually renovated and modernized existing buildings to meet regulations on accessibility, and to provide for changing needs in instruction.

Administrators: Grade A

Administrators have benefited greatly from current university policies, and their numbers, as well as their remuneration packages have swelled over the last decade. A spokesperson for Wilfrid Laurier University attempting to defend the ratio of one manager for every three faculty was quoted as saying "This was the norm across Ontario." The universities are being run as businesses, but as shocking inefficient ones. They have increased their fixed costs in administration enormously, without commensurate gains in the number of students being educated, and the quality of the education, which has suffered from the increased class sizes and program cuts.

University Presidents: Grade A+

This group has done famously well. Their pay has grown far faster than any other group at the University, similarly to that of CEOs of businesses. However, they lack the shareholder activists of business who can rein in excessive compensation packages. Most university presidents earn in the $400,000 to $500,000 range. By contrast the Premier of Ontario earned $208,974 last year, and the Prime Minister of Canada earned $327,000. It is hard to see how the job of university president can be more demanding than leading the province or the country. The cycle of excessive remuneration appears set to continue, as most universities watch what other universities pay their presidents. There are virtually no checks and balances in this system.

Overall Grade D-

Individual universities are pursuing policies of climbing in international ranking of universities. This means emphasis on research, publication of research findings, and not on the outcome of teaching. They are not serving the province, the people of Ontario, their students, or many of their employees well at this point.

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