Students content with ‘Zellers education’

Professors, politicians discuss university funding, student apathy, class sizes at Great Debate

Economics professor Frank Milne discussed post-secondary education, funding, class sizes and student apathy with politics professor Kim Nossal at Sunday’s Great Debate in Grant Hall.
Economics professor Frank Milne discussed post-secondary education, funding, class sizes and student apathy with politics professor Kim Nossal at Sunday’s Great Debate in Grant Hall.

If students want a better in-class experience, then universities need more professors or fewer students, said Kim Nossal, head of the political studies department, at Sunday’s Great Debate.

The debate, organized by the AMS advancement and development office, featured Queen’s professors and provincial politicians discussing the state of post-secondary education in Canada. Approximately 25 members of the Queen’s and Kingston community showed up for the event, which started in Grant Hall but moved to a room in Kingston Hall to accommodate the small group.

The first half of the afternoon was a discussion between Nossal and economics professor Frank Milne about university funding on various levels. The two speakers agreed on the necessity of deregulation and speaking about student apathy in regards to the quality of their education.

Nossal said the incredible growth of the undergraduate university population in Canada--from approximately 300,000 students in the 1970s to 700,000 today--caused a number of problems because that growth was not supplemented by an equivalent increase in professors.

“[Governments] insist that universities open their doors to the largest number of students who want to take advantage of a university education,” he said. “[But universities] are not permitted to change the tuition side, and governments aren’t willing to fund that extra 100 per cent increase over a generation.” Nossal said the lack of funding results in larger classes, less personalized service for undergraduate students and fewer high-quality professors.

In order to regain the level of education quality from the 1970s, he said, the university sector would need to receive an extra $2 billion to $3 billion a year.

He said the lack of student reaction to the decrease in quality, however, shows that students are relatively satisfied with the education they receive for the amount of tuition they pay.

“When you pay Zellers prices, you get a Zellers education,” he said, quoting an article by University of Toronto professor Clifford Orwin. “Everyone in the system--including undergraduates--are basically content with the Zellers education.” Alison Tonks, ArtSci ’08, said Nossal’s comments about getting a “Zellers education” rang true for her.

“I think students need to realize that we do need to put more into our education, and so does the government,” she said. “We really need to assess the direction that we want education to go.” Milne said the options for university funding leave the situation in a deadlock.

“Politicians … worry about the aging baby boomers and the health care,” he said.

“When it comes down to it--they can have more healthcare [and] … their grandchildren will have a pretty crappy education.”

Milne said universities often turn to cross-subsidization, using money from one department to fund research in a different department.

“The way [funding is] done is essentially the government provides some money, the university has to provide other amounts of money,” he said.

The debate between Bentley and Rosario Marchese, MPP for Trinity-Spadina and NDP critic for education and training, colleges and universities, was more heated.

Marchese said student contribution towards their own education has more than doubled in the past 15 years, a problem he said is unacceptable.

Students are making education choices based on the amount of debt they will incur, he said, which results in maintenance of the status quo.

“The privileged will go into those privileged professions,” he said.

Bentley said the current provincial government has made great strides in increasing university access, including devoting $6.2 billion towards post-secondary education.

“One universal fact is, a great education costs money, and it’s not getting any cheaper,” he said. “We’ve asked everyone in the province of Ontario … to invest heavily in post-secondary education, and then we asked the students who are attending to also make a contribution.” Aaron Lemkow, ArtSci ’07, said he wished there had been more time allotted for a question and answer period with the politicians.

“We’re not going to get another experience like this,” he said.

Max Rubin, AMS advancement and development officer and debate organizer, agreed that more student discussion time would have been beneficial.

Despite a lower turnout than was expected, Rubin said he thought the debate went well.

“For those who were there, it was an amazing experience,” he said. “Having a cabinet minister there was an amazing experience.”

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