First Step – On the Right Track
Former Ontario Premier John Robarts stated, “It is almost a paradox that future growth in Ontario may be hampered because of skill shortage rather than by displacement of workers by sophisticated machines”. Mr. Robarts made those comments in 1965 and I would argue that the skills shortage is as real today as it was a half century ago. Although criticism of Ontario’s education system has a long and honorable tradition, I contend that the solution to many of our current economic and social challenges will be resolved as a result of those same colleges and universities.
Over the past century (…in fact longer), there have been 1000s of newspaper articles, books and scholarly papers that have asserted that education in North America is on the cusp of decline or implosion. This “crisis – crisis” is not real, nor is it helpful. It simply serves as a symbolic act, gives false hope for change and often distracts us from addressing real challenges in a thoughtful and substantive way. Let us remember that no institution in the West, with the exception of the Roman Catholic Church, has persisted longer than higher education institutions. As an example, of the 66 institutions that have been in continuous operation since the early 1500s, 62 are universities.
So what do we make of these claims for radical change in these times of supposed crisis? Well one of Canada’s great management thinkers, Henry Mintzberg, provides an interesting perspective when he writes, we are no more in a crisis today than in the past half century, but in creating a crisis “we glorify ourselves by describing our own age as turbulent”.
Policy Will – Not Political Will
What Ontario needs is not more turbulence. What Ontario needs is not more political will. What Ontario does require is the long sought “policy will” that will address many of the issues that we have failed to confront in the past; issues that we have chosen to ignore at the expense of students, the system and our communities.
However today, perhaps there is light before us. This summer, I have been encouraged with the release of a new discussion paper; a government thought-piece that seems to reflect a more committed desire to start the conversation about where Ontario’s post secondary system must shift. A conversation that may lead to a system that is more relevant, more effective, more innovative and more efficient.
This summer, Glenn Murray, Minister of Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities released his discussion paper titled Strengthening Ontario’s Centre’s of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge: A discussion paper on innovation to make our university and college system stronger. The paper provides context to some of the key issues facing Ontario and our post secondary system. The paper articulates a vision for higher education in Ontario while most importantly providing eight thought perspectives or “Ideas to Drive Innovation and Strengthen Quality” in the province’s post secondary system.
In any document such as the discussion paper, there is simply not enough space to provide a complete overview of all aspects and challenges facing higher education. Therefore, there are elements that are missing, simplified or not clear. As an example, I have yet to fully understand what a knowledge economy is and wonder if it comes at the expense of an applied, experiential economy; an economy where there are real jobs like those of the trades that will not be outsourced to some country in the Far East.
Note: As an aside, I declare my bias in that I am personally committed to restoring the honor of applied, experiential education; an education that produces an environment that educators know to be the most effective approach to teaching and learning. This kind of learning goes well beyond trades-like training and is reflected in almost all programs being offered at Algonquin College.
A New Approach – A New Opportunity
Notwithstanding potential (and expected) shortcomings; deficiencies within the paper can be addressed by providing feedback to the Ministry. Overall, Minister Murray must be congratulated and thanked for starting the dialogue. He has grasped many of the issues quickly and it is a responsible reaction for education leaders to support his efforts to bring about necessary changes in Ontario’s higher education system. Minister Murray’s discussion paper provides eight broad ideas that are meant to guide dialogue and encourage discussion. These ideas are articulated in the discussion paper and include:
- Innovation to Drive System Transformation
- Expanded Credential Options and Supplements
- Credit Transfer, Credit Compatibility, Student Mobility
- Year-Round Learning
- Quality Teaching and Learning Outcomes
- Technology-Enabled Learning Opportunities
- Creating a Tuition Framework That is Fair for Students and Institutions
- Entrepreneurial and Experiential Learning
Over the coming weeks, Algonquin College will continue to prepare a forward thinking, progressive and pragmatic response for the Minister’s review. We are clear about our role in higher education. Our vision is to be a global leader in digitally connected applied education and training. We have the plan to move us in this direction and we have the faculty and staff necessary to execute.
This is a time that we must support the Minister; support his desire for change, support his belief that we are good but can be better; support his belief that technology can widen access, increase quality and lower costs.
I am not so naïve to believe that this latest effort will result in massive, substantive changes to Ontario’s post secondary system. It simply is not possible to radically change Ontario’s complex (and successful) higher education system. Yet the effort to review our current practice is a noble one and the citizens of Ontario should expect that those working in its publicly assisted higher education system are going to challenge the status quo and put the needs of our communities first. Minister Murray himself has stated that this change process could take as long as ten years, perhaps more. Yet the first step is always the hardest one and Algonquin College is prepared to walk along side the Minister and his staff to ensure the people we serve receive the best college education possible.
Next Blog: Examining the eight “Ideas to Drive Innovation and Strengthen Quality”