Increased enrollment

60,000 additional spaces to be created by 2015-16 in Ontario

Academic Affairs Commissioner Kieran Slobodin says increased enrolment doesn’t necessarily help educational access.
Academic Affairs Commissioner Kieran Slobodin says increased enrolment doesn’t necessarily help educational access.
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Questions are being raised regarding the effectiveness of new government funds directed towards post-secondary education.

The provincial government will be dedicating $309 million to the creation of 60,000 new spaces in Ontario’s post-secondary education sector by 2015-16.

Linda MacKay, manager of issues management and media relations in the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, said that seven out of 10 new jobs will require some form of post-secondary education.

“Today, 64 per cent of people in Ontario have post-secondary education and training credentials — that’s higher than any Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) country in the world,” she told the Journal via email. “Our government’s goal is to increase that number to 70 per cent.”

According to Mackay, Ontarians with higher levels of knowledge and skills have better employment prospects, earn higher wages, are more engaged citizens and help strengthen Ontario’s economy.

“That’s why our government is creating more than 60,000 additional spaces by 2015-16, by investing more than $64 million in 2011-12, growing to $309 million in 2013-14, in additional operating grants to colleges and universities,” she said, adding that since 2003, 140,000 more students are attending Ontario colleges and universities.

According to AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner Kieran Slobodin, the increase in enrollment spots won’t necessarily improve accessibility to education.

“For students, creating enough spaces isn’t enough of an answer. They still need financial aid and support programs,” Slobodin, ArtSci ’12, said. “There are still concerns.”

There are unintended consequences of simply increasing the number of enrollment spaces in post-secondary institutions, Slobodin said.

“In some ways we are over-capacity. Residences have more students than they’re supposed to have … if we increase enrolment we can promise less residence spots to first years,” he said.

The Enrollment Planning Committee, which is made up of administrators as well as the AMS and SGPS President, will decide how to use funding to support these spaces, and how many spaces to take on. Slobodin said the amount of enrollment spaces increased in each college or university will differ.

He said one of the concerns is that with increased enrollment, quality of education could suffer.

“A common way of judging quality is the faculty to student ratio … without an equal funding commitment to get more teachers and training for teachers, an increase of students would dilute the quality of education,” he said. “We need to increase the number of teachers to students and we need funding to do this.”

Slobodin said there isn’t enough funding put towards accessibility and quality of education.

“If we’re funding these spaces we need to be funding the quality,” he said, adding that more technology in the classroom and well-kept buildings and are markers in judging educational quality. “We want to see steps from the budget to fund this.”

Additional barriers that prevent people from accessing education are not being addressed by increasing enrolment spaces, Slobodin said.

“Research shows groups such as Aboriginal peoples that are under-represented face additional barriers to education. Having spots available doesn’t quite address these support and informational barriers,” he said. “Having number of spaces means more students can attend, but it’s not enough to truly address those access barriers.”

The vast majority of under-represented groups are unaware that financial aid is available to them, Slobodin said.

“These informational, financial and cultural barriers start early … many students don’t know the real cost of university.”

Slobodin said he’s been working with the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance OUSA to lobby for students to receive more direct funding from the government.

“We want to see more money given to specific areas, such as Learning Commons or Health, Counselling and Disability Services. Budgets are constrained, but students rely on these services and need to see a stable form of funding. Funding needs to be increased to a level where these services can expand,” he said.

Other post-secondary institutions in Ontario face similar funding issues, Slobodin said.

“Western recently created a new fee for their counseling service. If they got direct funding from the government, they wouldn’t have had to do this,” he said.

Slobodin said he hopes parties in the upcoming election make rising tuition costs and issues of accessibility to education a focus of their campaign. Slobodin said tuition costs have been rising by five per cent per year for the past five years. Average Ontario undergraduate tuition for the 2010-11 school year rose to $6,307.

“What we’re really hoping for is every party running to look towards the quality aspect of funding for education as well as rising costs for students, and is committed to keeping these costs low and reducing them,” he said.

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