Graduate students get cash infusion

Money won’t improve quality of education: Vice-Principal

Andrew Sadler, SGPS VP (external), said he’s concerned about access to education.
Andrew Sadler, SGPS VP (external), said he’s concerned about access to education.
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The University’s graduate studies programs will open up more than 966 new spaces over the next three years.

The exact numbers of how the spaces will be distributed by department aren’t yet finalized, and will depend on the numbers of this year’s graduate population.

The spaces were part of an Ontario government announcement on Thursday that increased graduate student space by 55 per cent.

“[We want an] innovative, creative, knowledge-based society,” said Chris Bentley, minister of training, colleges and universities, in an interview with the Journal. “Graduate education is the pinnacle of that.” A funding announcement from the provincial government publicized a 55 per cent increase in spaces for graduate students at Ontario universities in the coming years.

The funding is part of the province’s $240 million Reaching Higher program, announced in the budget last spring.

Bentley said the government allocated spaces to institutions based on their track record and their ability to take on more students.

“We invited all the institutions and asked if they would like new spots. We sifted through applications and that’s how Queen’s came up with so many [spaces].”

Bentley said the provincial government appreciates the growing need for people entering the workforce to have a graduate education.

“There’s a strong focus by the McGuinty government on it because we recognize almost 80 per cent of new jobs will require some post-secondary education and skills training,” he said, adding that he hopes to position Ontario on a par with anyone in the world on the basis of knowledge and innovation.

“We don’t have cheap oil, we don’t want to compete on the basis of cheap wages, so it’s a knowledge-based society on which we wish to compete,” he said. “This graduate investment by Premier McGuinty and your MPP John Gerretsen will ensure that happens.” Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane said the goal to dramatically increase graduate student spaces is good but ambitious.

“It’s all very well to create 14,000 spaces, but are there enough students who are interested and qualified enough to fill them up?”

The money will go primarily towards Basic Income Units (BIU) for graduate students, with a limited amount for capital investment in buildings and professors.

“We don’t have a particularly remarkable growth in capacity,” he said. “That’s one of the problems we’ll have to work out. I think, probably, a sensible strategy is to concentrate our efforts on programs where there is capacity.” Deane said preparation for the double cohort, which will be entering grad school next year, was partly, but not entirely, the motivation for increasing spaces.

He said the decision was also driven by increasing workplace demands for higher education, what Deane called an “escalation of the need for qualification in certain lines of work.”

“We always applaud any initiative that makes it possible for more people to come to the University,” he said. “Given that it really is an accessibility initiative … [the concern is with] how you fulfill its potential while retaining quality.”

Deane said that although the infusion of funding is a good thing, he expressed concerns that the money simply won’t be enough to allow Queen’s to significantly improve quality, and may end up decreasing the calibre of students at the University.

“I would say it’s an ambitious program, and though of course it’s to be welcomed, the level of funding on which it is based may prove problematic in the long run,” he said. “It could end up costing us, speaking from a University perspective … It doesn’t amount to a significant improvement in either the quality or the capacity of the University.”

Janice Deakin, dean of graduate studies and research, told the Journal that graduate school expansion is much needed in the University’s efforts to build a highly skilled workforce.

“At the moment, the school of graduate studies along with the faculties have looked at what capacity exists for growth in our current programs,” she said. “We’re working with the deans and the departments to try and facilitate the growth within the existing departments.”

Andrew Sadler, VP (external) of the Society of Graduate and Professional Students, said he thought the decision to increase spaces for graduate students was a good decision when it was made 16 months ago.

“The first thing to recognize [is that it was] a decision announced in the 2005 budget. It’s a bit concerning that over 16 months, they still have to be announcing the increases … and why they’re not taking new steps is a concern.”

Sadler said there is also concern over tuition fees.

“[The University] has kept most graduate tuition frozen but the provincial government has been adopting a policy of increasing fees,” Sadler said. “For them to turn around and re-announce a 16-month-old policy, it seems like they’re trying to distract concerns over the other policies they’ve announced.”

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