Friday, October 15, 1999

Speech from the Throne

As I forked through the University of Ottawa's English Language student newspaper, The Fulcrum, I came a across an analysis of the Governor General of Canada's "Speech from the Throne" (held on Tuesday, October 12, 1999). Of course, being a university newspaper, the article harped on the fact there were hardly any specifics for funding post secondary institutions in Canada. I also noticed the article commented on the fact that universities were having problems finding enough space incoming students. Let's also not forget about the situation in the province of Ontario, of the "double cohort (two sets of graduating students from Ontario's secondary schools in one year) which will be graduating from the province's secondary schools in the near future.

I then reflected upon when I applied for university in the school year of 1997-1998. Back in secondary school I was encouraged to earn high marks in order to be accepted by a university. The fall of my graduating year (grade thirteen in Ontario), I applied for the Honours in History program at the three universities of my choice. I applied to Victoria College at the University of Toronto, Lakehead (Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada) and the University of Ottawa figuring I would require at least an average of eighty percent to be accepted. In May of 1998, I received my conditional acceptances from my three choices. Lakehead and the University of Toronto said I required at least a sixty percent average at the end of my OAC year (grade 13). Whereas, the University of Ottawa gave me the ultimatum of a seventy percent average. The low averages, I figured were because these universities had more spaces in their respective Honours in History programs than they had applicants. So now that I had no incentive to compete (my Ontario Scholar Award would show differently) for a spot because with an average just pushing the eighty percent range, I basically had my spot in university guaranteed.

 However, now I read in The Fulcrum that this year alone "the University of Ottawa had an increase of 9.5 percent in first year enrollment" (Heartfield, "Playing Catch-up." The Fulcrum, 14 October 1999, Page 3). I was told all throughout secondary school that universities only had so many places for students, and therefore, we were forced to compete with our marks for places. Therefore, it seems to me, that being an institution of 'higher learning', universities would take the top marks and say, to people bluntly, 'screw you' to the ones that don't make the grade. So why then did enrolment and tuition go up 9.5 percent in the same year at the University of Ottawa? So why are universities complaining about growth when they hold the key to their growth problem? The universities only have to grow when they wish to grow and the universities are given the necessary funding for growth. If the University of Ottawa didn't have the funding to increase enrollment from the government, then why did the university increase enrollment and give students a 9.5 percent increase in tuition?

The universities also complain that "every student means more funding is needed from the government" (Heartfield, "Playing Catch-up", The Fulcrum, Page 3). This problem can be solved by the universities because the universities, not the government, decide on the number of spaces the universities are able to provide. Therefore, if the number of applicants is higher than the number of spaces, the universities would then determine who would be eligible for those spaces based on applicants' marks. This plan would force the graduates from secondary school to compete in order to assure themselves a place in university. The plan would also appease the 'corporate hacks' who demand quality graduates from the universities.

The word, people, is competition. We were told in high school that we were going to have to compete in order to guarantee ourselves a place in university. So far, after one year at the University of Ottawa, I have found this world to be a complete farce. Take residence life for example, there is always a party going on somewhere. Competition would eliminate the people who seem to pay to come to university to party. By eliminating those rapscallions, there would be openings for the future brains of Canada who are serious about university and advancing society. By competing for university admissions, this would force the students to work extra hard in order to ensure themselves the privilege to study and learn from some of the greatest minds in the world. This would also teach our young adults the strength of a good work ethic that seems to be lacking these days.

The competition would also appease the corporations who invest large numbers of dollars into post secondary institutions. The corporations would be receiving even better educated graduates because the competition would force students to concentrate on their studies. Also, if universities are meeting and/or exceeding the education expectations of the corporations, the corporations, in return, would give universities more money to invest. This new money could then be invested into the university in order to grow and expand, or replace the government cutbacks to post secondary education.

Finally, by raising the marks required to enter into university, the electorate can get involved. The electorate holds the most powerful tool in politics, the vote. When the electorate complains that the averages required to enter into universities is to high, the government will listen. This, for obvious reasons, is because if the government wants to return to power after the next election, they need to support the electorates wishes. Education has always been a contentious issue for the electorate, therefore, when people complain, the government will act. Therefore, the government will either increase funding to post secondary education or face a humiliating defeat in the next election.

So instead of putting down the government. Take aim at the university administration who already has the tools to limit growth. What needs to be done is to put pressure on the administrations of the universities to keep tuition fees at reasonable levels and encourage the government to place limits on tuition fees for all post secondary programs. Also, with the inclusion of competition, the universities will be able to return to their roots, that is educating the best minds for the future, and not just collecting cash.

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