“Educated Solutions is designed to provoke thought and promote insightful debate on the issues that affect the quality and accessibility of higher education, allowing Ontario’s students to become active participants in the shaping of their post-secondary experience.” So reads the Editor’s Message of OUSA’s very first issue of Educated Solutions, published in 2004. Eleven years and nine volumes later, both the post-secondary landscape and the magazine itself may look very different, but our goals in creating Educated Solutions remain unchanged. We publish this magazine because (as the tagline reads) “Our Future Depends On Higher Education”; this time around, we decided to dive deeper into the “future” part of that declaration. Typically, each volume of Educated Solutions is tethered to a central theme: in the past, these have included “Affordability”, “Access”, and “Quality”. Volume Nine addresses the theme of “System Vision”.
System Vision is a grandiose title, or at least an ambiguous one- it sounds like it could be the name of the next Star Trek movie, or maybe a strip mall optometrist. However, for us it means taking an aerial view of our post-secondary education (PSE) system in Ontario—allowing ourselves to try and see the trees for the forest. It’s been ten years since “The Rae Report” was released, the provincial government’s commissioned review of the post-secondary system as a whole. It seemed appropriate to us to engage in a similarly wide-ranging and broad conversation: what is happening in universities now? How might they change in the future?
Cynics of the general arts and science undergraduate education are apt to call our post-secondary system an assembly line—students get pumped in, students get pumped out. However, from our vantage point the better analogy is that of a watch, whose gears and machinations mesh intricately and sometimes inscrutably. Our education system as we understand it today is made up of so many diverse groups: of students, faculty, administrators, politicians, civil servants, municipalities, community groups, etc. Each of these segments has different needs and different motivations, yet the alteration of any individual contribution would change the efficacy and outcomes of universities. It is because of this that any vision for the future of post-secondary education must recognize the system it is built on.
While it is always good to make an effort to consider the “big picture” in education, the conversation around broader system vision is particularly timely. This year brings about a re-evaluation of Ontario’s funding formula by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities; this means potentially altering the basic apparatus through which universities have received their money for the last fifty years. It gives well-worn debates about PSE a heightened urgency – there is an opportunity to make very concrete, very deliberate decisions about what it is we as a province wish to prioritize in education. What was formerly a matter of custom or habit will now be a matter of intent. These potential changes are exciting, but understandably daunting as well.
With this in mind, this issue of Educated Solutions looks to the future and engages with some tough questions:
How do we strike a balance between allowing the organic, institution-specific innovation that characterizes some of the best parts of our education system while still adhering to an organized and collective provincial strategy?
How do we ensure efficiency and fiscal responsibility within institutions without resorting to a mindset of scarcity and competition?
How do we try and request predictable deliverables from universities when basic aspects of the system (demographics, job market trends, collective bargaining) remain so maddeningly hard to forecast?
Not least of all- how do we tinker with this watch when we still need to tell the time?
We asked people from around the university sector—administrators, policy experts, students, recent graduates— to grapple with these and other questions. What we got back were thoughtful, incisive pieces on issues from all over the sector. All are centered on “big picture” trends impacting post-secondary education as we know it now, and as we hope it will be. The ideas are strong, the writing is fresh—we are so excited to show it to you.
Our foreword was written by Premier Kathleen Wynne, and our authors include the newly appointed chair of the Council of Ontario Universities Dr. Patrick Deane, his predecessor at the C.O.U Dr. Max Blouw, CEO and President of the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario Harvey Weingarten, the President of Higher Educations Strategy Associates Alex Usher, and student leaders from McMaster, Laurier, and Queen’s Universities. So dig in- read Vol. 9 of Educated Solutions here.