Is Co-operative Education the Future of University?



By Sarah Lachance

How Did We Get Here?

With the massification of post-secondary education (PSE) in Canada, more and more students every year are seeing university as the right path for them (Jones, 2007). This has put universities in the position of playing a key role in the state of our national economy (Stewart, 2010). In fact, provincial and federal governments have gone as far as to make increased access to PSE as a goal to support the assumed high need for more skilled employees in the workforce (Jones, 2007).

It is no surprise that this shift towards increased enrollment has decreased the employment value of a degree (Walters & Zarifa, 2008). David McKay reported in the Globe and Mail (2015) that cooperative education not only prepares students for this changing economy, but also allows them to bring those experiences to the classroom to expand their learning.

Who Benefits? What are the Opportunities?

In a National Graduate Survey by Statistics Canada it was found that students who completed a co-operative education program in university or college were more likely to have full time employment two years after graduation than their non-coop counterparts (Walters & Zarifa, 2008). They were also more likely to get positions in their desired professions, make more money, and be overall more confident and job ready (Milley & Kovinthan, 2014).

Employers are complaining that university graduates are lacking the skills that they are looking for in employees (Miller, 2014). The purpose of cooperative education is to increase the employability of students; it also allows employers to give feedback to the schools about student performance and curriculum development (Milley & Kovinthan, 2014)

In 2005, there were 152,762 full-time international students enrolled in university (Stewart, 2010). Cooperative education allows foreign students to “get their foot in the door” of the Canadian workforce, make connections, and increase their likelihood of gaining employment after graduation (Tal & Enenajor, 2013).

Who Loses? What are the Challenges?

Turner (2014) believes that the current university education system trains graduates to develop knowledge, skill, and self-efficacy already, all of which are transferrable to the job market. The argument has been raised that prioritizing increased employability in university education undermines the core purpose of the institution and takes away from the development of this knowledge and skills set (Milley & Kovinthan, 2014).

For example, the University of Waterloo has one of the world’s largest cooperative education programs with approximately 19,000 students enrolled and 5,200 employers who participate (McKay, 2015). David McKay, a UWO Coop Alumni, did his placements at RBC where he is now the President and CEO. He believes that government incentives for universities to improve how they facilitate these programs are the key to increasing their effectiveness and the employability of graduates (McKay, 2015). Future changes in funding from government agencies to PSE may or may not incorporate these types of incentives. It could be a challenge for universities without coop programs already in place to receive the money they need to create them.

What Direction Should We Go Next?

One option is the addition of more applied baccalaureate programs in university. The Canadian Counsel on Learning (2010) believes that these types of programs, that have more of a vocational focus while still incorporating the program goals of typical undergraduate program, will be a welcomed innovation to employers.

These programs need to be developed so that they satisfy the purpose of the university and create more employable graduates. This style of program would require students to be participants in the work force to extend learning rather than for economic goals (Milley & Kovinthan, 2014). This way a student can get on-the-job experience while still developing thinking skills. An example of this would be using reflective practice as a means of improving metacognition (Milley & Kovinthan, 2014).

Why Should We Care?

Although the unemployment rate for PSE graduate is only five percent (Dehaas, 2014), it is believed that graduates stuck in part-time, low-income jobs is more than double that rate (Miller, 2014). What this means is that, with more people attending PSE, there are more students graduating with debt and with less graduates being hired into full-time, positions PSE graduates are starting their lives at a financial disadvantage (Tal & Enenajor, 2013).

In a recent HEQCO report, they recommended employer satisfaction with PSE graduates as an indicator of quality in post secondary institutions (HEQCO, 2012a, 2012b). If this criterion were to be added, various universities in Canada would begin to prioritize the employment skills of their graduates. Therefore, this may be an important time for researchers to be looking at this issue to develop a comprehensive coop program that satisfies the needs of employers and the purpose of universities.


Canadian Council on Learning (2010). Navigating post-secondary education in Canada: The challenge of a changing landscape. Ottawa, ON: Author

Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (2012a). Performance indicators for the public postsecondary system in Ontario. Toronto, ON: Author.

Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (2012b). The productivity of the Ontario public postsecondary system preliminary report. Toronto, ON: Author.

Jones, G. (2007, April). The academy as a work in progress. Academic Matters: The Journal of Higher Education, 10-13.

McKay, D. (2015, May 8). For students and employers, co-op education is a bridge to a wider world. The Glove and Mail. Retrieved from

Millar, E. (2014, Oct 14). The expectation gap: Students’ and Universities’ roles in preparing for life after grad. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from

Milley, P., & Kovinthan, T. (2014). Examining the research base on university co-operative education in light of the neoliberal challenge to liberal education. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 60(2), 377 – 402.

Stewart, P. (2010). Academic values v commercial values. CAUT Bulletin, 57(3). Retrieved from

Tal, B., & Enenajor, E. (2013). Degrees of success: The playoff to higher education in Canada. In Focus. Retrieved from

Turner, N. (2014). Development of self-belief for employability in higher education: Ability, efficacy and control in context. Teaching in Higher Education, 19(6), 592 – 602. doi: 10.1080/13562517.2014.901951

Walters, D., & Zarifa, D. (2008). Earnings and employment outcomes for male and female postsecondary graduates of coop and non-coop programs. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 60(4), 337 – 299. doi: 10.1080/13636820802591863.

A Culture Of Learning For All


By Genevieve Broadley

Setting the Scene

Where do I begin? It all happened so quickly, and I feel like I don’t know what to do. My boyfriend and I have been dating for some time now, in fact it will be two years later this month. We met during frosh week, and now we’re almost half way done our undergraduate. Crazy how time flies! But, I guess a lot of things can change over two years, and crazy doesn’t even begin to describe it. I found out that I was pregnant two weeks ago, so I guess that puts me close to two months… I live with a bunch of girlfriends in our student house, and they all told me they would support me in my decision. My boyfriend told me the same thing. I guess what has been bothering me the most, is that I don’t really feel like I have a decision to make in the first place. Decisions can only be made when choices are present, but right now, I feel trapped. How am I going to finish my program with a new baby? I would have to move. I would have to take time off (is that even allowed?). I don’t have the money. What about daycare? Would my student benefits cover my child? Will I have to finish my classes online? Is there a support group on my campus? In my two years here so far, I have never seen a pregnant woman on campus. Will I stand out? Be ridiculed or gossiped about? What do I do?

The Canadian Context

This is just one of the many stories of a pregnant student trying to survive in the postsecondary setting. As Canadians we take pride in our cultural mosaic, our inclusivity, and the availability of resources and care we provide to the members of our society. Nevertheless, we cannot take this for granted. If we stop and ask ourselves who isn’t included and which pieces don’t fit into our mosaic, I think we would realize that universities are often not an inclusive space for pregnant and parenting students (Bierling, Cassidy, & Carter, 1994). According to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, at the University of Saskatchewan, one of the major issues in lifelong learning is the question of how to create a culture of learning for all. Postsecondary institutions must strive to be a culture of learning for all by providing access to learning for the less advantaged (CHSS, 2007). A study conducted in 2010 by the deVeber Institute investigated resources for pregnant and parenting students on university campuses in Canada (Bonomi, 2010). They found that only one Canadian university (University of Toronto) offered a Family Care Office, or central location from which students and their families can find resources and support through their education (Frances, 2016).

One of the most common resources provided at Canadian universities is flexible class times such as evening and weekend classes and distance studies options, at 91% and 76% of Canadian universities respectively (Bonomi, 2010). These were considered to be some of the most helpful options for pregnant and parenting students. Another very important resource for families is childcare. Brock University is one of 51 of Canadian Universities, out of 86 total, to offer a daycare on campus (Bonomi, 2010). The Rosalind Blauer Centre for Childcare offers their services to students, faculty, and staff of Brock University as well as to the community at large, with a priority given to students (Rosalind, 2010). Currently the daycare here at Brock has a waitlist of 1 year to 18 months, and the cost to enroll an infant is $245.07 per week (Rosalind, 2010). The centre is open Monday to Friday, from 7:30 in the morning to 6 at night (Rosalind, 2010). Despite these very long hours, students may struggle to find babysitters or childcare providers for evening or weekend classes. Negotiating class schedules and securing childcare are tip of the iceberg. Becoming a new parent can be challenging enough to navigate, without trying to decipher your school’s administrative policies, and build your own network of support. A central family care office would be an excellent asset to any school wishing to create an inclusive culture of learning for all (Frances, 2016).


The rhetoric surrounding “choice” in North America emphasizes a woman’s right to choose, but choices have seldom been provided for those who want to pursue family life and their education (Bierling et al. 1994). The 21st century woman is more likely than ever before to attend postsecondary school, and often females are outnumbering males in the university setting (Frenette & Klarka, 2007). The need for family-friendly campuses will only become greater as Canada opens its doors to immigrant and refugee families who are required to upgrade licensing or re-certify themselves in order to become professionals in the Canadian context (Houle & Yssaad, 2010; CIC, 2015).

Without critically assessing why we do not already have a vested interest in pregnant and parenting students, and why we are not striving to make education more accessible to students with families, we cannot move forward. If resources cannot be provided to support families on campus, pregnant and parenting students will be left behind during a challenging time. So why should we care? Family life is important. Often family is even referred to as a microcosm of society (Ugal & Orim, 2009). If families are the foundation on which society is built, then our educational institutions must do everything in their power to buttress this foundation and reinforce it. Education can not be viewed as incompatible with family life, but rather a means of enriching it; ensuring that the society of our future is built on a strong foundation.


Bierling, G., Cassidy, E., & Carter, E. (1994). Agency and maternal perceptions on the         decision to parent. UFL Proceedings 1994. 290-308.

Bonomi, G. (2010). Resources for pregnant women, single mothers, and parenting    students on university campuses in Canada. The deVeber Institute of Bioethics and Social         Research.  mothers-and-parenting-students-university-campuses-c

CHSS – Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences (2007). Issues in lifelong learning.        University of Saskatchewan (May 26- June 2).

CIC: The refugee system in Canada. The Government of Canada. Nov.24 2015   

Francis, K. (n.d.). University of Toronto, Family Care Office. Retrieved March 9, 2016.

Frenette, M., & Klarka Z. (2007). Why are most university students women? Evidence based on      academic performance, study habits and parental influences. Analytical Studies Branch  Research Paper Series. Statistics Canada Catalogue No. 11F0019MIE – No. 303.

Houle, R., & Yssaad, L. (2010). Recognition of newcomer’s foreign credentials and work    experience. Perspectives – Statistics Canada, 75(01), 18-33.

Rosalind Blauer Center for Child Care (2010). Enrolment and costs/ waitlist. Retrieved March 10, 2016.

Ugal, D., & Orim, P. (2009). Family as a microcosm of the larger society: Implications for    societal development. Social Science Research Network, (6) 12, 1-11.



Creating a Culture of Care



By Courtney Webster

Close your eyes, clear your mind, and take a deep breath. You are going to need all of the inner strength that you can get for this one. Are you ready? Let’s begin.

Think of five people in your life. These people can be male, female, gender fluid, or gender unidentified or undisclosed. These people can be family members, friends, colleagues, neighbours, or your favourite barista at your beloved coffee shop who always remembers your order. Just think of five people.

Do you have your five? Okay, now brace yourself for the next step, because it is not going to be pretty.

Open your eyes, take another deep breath, and read the following statement carefully.

  • One in five women experience sexual assault while attending a post-secondary institution (Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario [CFS-O], 2015).

One in five. Remember those five people you were just thinking about? One of those people could be living proof of that statistic.

Now tell me that this statement does not evoke some sort of visceral reaction from deep within your core. Tell me that those numbers do not matter. Tell me that those people do not matter. You can’t, can you? So then tell me this – what are post-secondary education (PSE) institutions doing to prevent these numbers from climbing? What are PSE institutions doing to support survivors of attempted or completed sexual assault? More importantly, perhaps, what are they not doing that they could be doing?

The Current Situation

While the sources conducted for the purpose of this blog do not all share the same statistics as the CFS-O (2015) regarding the number of individuals who have been or will be sexually assaulted while attending PSE institutions, the numbers are all similarly staggering. Here are a few other statistics gathered from various sources:

  • According to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s action plan, “It’s Never Okay”, developed to combat sexual assault on university and college campuses, one in three women will experience some form of sexual assault in her lifetime (Government of Ontario, 2015);
  • Studies over the past few years in the United States and Canada have estimated that 15 to 25 per cent of women had experienced some form of sexual assault during their time at school (Mathieu & Poisson, 2014)

While issues of sexual violence and harassment are not confined strictly to college and university campuses, it is a pervasive problem that must be addressed. There is a need for institutions to establish both prevention and intervention programs to reduce the incidence of sexual assault, while also providing effective support services for survivors (Cares et al., 2015). The objectives for PSE administrators and leaders should be to combat sexual violence on campus and foster a culture of respect, inclusion, and civility (Napolitano, 2015). The goal for all institutions and those working within them must be to be proactive, not merely reactive.

In a study conducted in 2014, researchers found that 16 PSE institutions in Canada of 87 surveyed have received zero reports of sexual assault for six consecutive years (Ward, 2015). While a low number of sexual assault reports might seem encouraging, researchers believe the numbers could unfortunately be indicative of an unsupportive campus climate in which students do not feel comfortable or safe reporting their assault (Ward, 2015). It is essential that administrators of PSE institutions understand and recognize that reporting a higher number of incidents could be suggestive of an institution in which survivors feel safe reporting, as well as one that is effectively tracking and monitoring data regarding sexual assault (Tamburri, 2015).

What is Being Done?

“It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment” is a 2015 document released by the Government of Ontario to address sexual violence across the province. One of the chapters within the action plan focuses on policies that are to be instated across Ontario PSE institutions. Many on-campus incidences of sexual assault occur within the first eight weeks of classes, thus as of September 2015, all PSE institutions were mandated to participate in a province-wide awareness campaign (Government of Ontario, 2015).

The goals of this action plan with regard to sexual assault on campuses are to:

  • introduce legislation that requires all post-secondary institutions to adopt a sexual assault policy to be renewed every four years;
  • ensure campuses have clearly stated complaint procedures and response protocols, effective training and prevention programs, and services and supports for survivors available 24/7;
  • require all PSE institutions to publicly report on incidence of sexual violence
  • support initiatives to reduce sexual violence and harassment;
  • ensure that all students have information about preventing sexual violence and harassment and are informed of resources and supports, starting during orientation week and continuing through the year (Government of Ontario, 2015).

This action plan and its implementation indicate significant progress being made on the issue of sexual assault and reporting on campuses. In a previous investigative study conducted by The Toronto Star (Mathieu & Poisson, 2014), the researchers found that only nine of more than 100 universities and colleges had adopted a special policy to address sexual assault. While the majority of institutions had a line or a brief statement included in one of their other policies, they did not have a specific one regarding sexual assault, reporting, or preventative strategies.

Moreover, while the majority of the PSE institutions reported that they had on-campus security cameras, patrol cars, and emergency phones, these safety measures did not take into account the violence that occurs in residences or between students who know one another. While these measures might increase the feeling of safety on campus, they might not actually increase the reality of that safety (Mathieu & Poisson, 2014).

What Needs to be Done?

Now, these sources have all focused on sexual assault on women, but I want to make it clear that sexual assault does not happen to solely to women and that is why I asked you to think of five people, without specifying whether they had to gender identify in one way. I am not proposing that universities and colleges create special support programs and policies specifically for women, but for any individual who has ever felt threatened, unsafe, or has been assaulted.

Future research must consider all individuals, regardless of gender identification, sexual orientation, race, religion, or ability, and how they are impacted by sexual assault, both as survivors and as perpetrators. Further research will also need to be conducted to address the effectiveness of the “It’s Never Okay” action plan, as well as to ensure that it is being implemented.

It is time to foster a culture of care and safety within all post-secondary education institutions. For some students, PSE is a dream come true and an exciting adventure. We cannot allow that dream, that adventure, to become a nightmare.

One in five. We have work to do.



Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. (2015). Turning the Page: A New Chapter for Ontario’s Post-Secondary Students (2015). Retrieved from LobbyWeek-Web.pdf

Cares, A. C., Banyard, V. L., Moynihan, M. M., Williams, L. M., Potter, S. J., & Stapleton, J. G. (2015). Changing attitudes about being a bystander to violence: Translating an in-person sexual violence prevention program to a new campus. Violence Against Women, 21(2), 165-187.

Government of Ontario (2015). “It’s Never Okay”: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment. Retrieved from

Mathieu, E., & Poisson, J. (2014, November 20). Canadian post-secondary schools failing sex assault victims. The Star.

Napolitano, J. (2015). “Only yes means yes”: An essay on university policies regarding sexual violence and sexual assault. Yale Law & Policy Review, 33, 387-402.

Tamburri, R. (2015, April 10). Ontario moves to combat sexual violence on campus. University Affairs.

Ward, L. (2015, November 23). Schools reporting zero sexual assaults on campus not reflecting reality, critics, students say. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.








Course of Action


By Ryan Morreale

A Course of Action

You turn to understand where you exist in PSE (post-secondary education) (Canadian Council on Learning, 2010) and how and realize you have been manipulated by their policies over the years. “Not all institutions have to look the same [and] the system we have now is a model for diminished quality and mediocrity” (Tamburri, 2011, p. 4).  You all are part of this PSE system that exists with poor superiority and ordinariness yet we all want more, something existing of change, something better than what we have. Perhaps a single umbrella approach, meaning that the whole cluster of universities be under the mission and mandate of province-wide policy rather than institutional motivation and local pride. (Clark et al, 2011, p. 3). What about a collective pride and motivation?

“It is not too late for Ontario to create… student-focused education that provides more options for a diverse student population at a cost that is more affordable than the traditional model” (Clark et al, 2011, p. 7).   Perhaps this new plan by the Ontario Liberal Party allowing, money to be “available upfront, before tuition bills are due, for families earning less than $50,000” (Rushowy, 2016).  With this new legislation, perhaps education has shifted in favour of you, you know, in favour of a “willingness of government and the public to support a public higher education system [that] is motivated by its understood contribution to a better quality of life and healthier economy” (HEQCO, 2012, p.9).  You can always sit back and wait for something different, something to change, yet “if we waited for the pedagogical and proverbial path to be mapped out for us, we’d miss unlimited opportunities for teaching and learning” (Zak, 2014, p.1). This is scary – your own path of education – isn’t it easier to go with the system rather than transgress it? “It is like embarking on an adventure without a map instead of opting for the highway and a GPS; both roads lead to the same destination, but the trip is very different” (Zak, 2014, p.3).


Different is also something that scares you. On that note, “there is a strong view that a postsecondary education should produce engaged citizens” (HEQCO, 2012, p.12). Share, collaborate, engage with something on the move. “Narrative is on the move…[and]…Of course, using stories to teach has always been part of the practice of adult educators” (Clark & Rossiter, 2008, p.1). Yet this is just chaos you say! I want substance, I want quality, I want – not stories! Just be rational now. “Coherence creates sense out of chaos by establishing connections between and among these experiences” (Clark & Rossiter, 2008, p. 62). So sharing your experience, your path of PSE, with debates and assumptions you have with the whole ‘system of things’ is something of academic and societal rigor that “falls under the larger category of constructivist learning theory, which understands learning as construction of meaning from experience” (Clark & Rossiter, 2008, p. 63).

You as students, as educators, as researchers, as just another student number, you – as you and/or just another person in the chaos of PSE – are something (not even someone) as such – like an object. Mapping your unique path, your stories, your research “informs narrative learning; experience is the object of the meaning making” (Clark & Rossiter, 2008, p. 63). You want to be an object going through a system? Who really does? What about moving someone as to transform them, without that industrialized system, such as a machine, rather someone who is delighted to stir the hearts and shape minds (Riddell, 2015, p.1)? Stories of ourselves in this huge spectrum of PSE – some may say – this messy, messy business, “draws us out, lead us beyond ourselves…[and] functions as a powerful medium of learning, development and transformation” (Rossiter, 2002, p. 2).

Now what?

Run away fast – get outta here! You want to: listen to your story, engage in your experience or understand your PSE map. What about the others?  This current state of PSE “could promote academic freedom and remind us that high-quality education cannot be achieved without institutional commitment to good working conditions” (Stewart, 2010, p. 2). Working conditions that promote, celebrate, and support all areas of education – for the sake of this discussion – even the area of narrative stories of you and your education. You “may be too close to the action to see it clearly…[and the]…view from afar may afford them a fuller picture” (Evans & Tress, 2009, p. 8).  Both sets of lenses fit the whole picture, your whole picture of PSE or perhaps the others’ whole picture of PSE.

What do you want out of your PSE? “It ought to produce critical thinkers, scientifically and culturally literate people who can access evidence, connect the dots and communicate with clarity -the key skills, that, in a fast-changing economy, prepare people for the jobs that haven’t been invented yet” (n.a., 2011). PSE must educate people to connect the dots regarding a fast-changing scientific and culturally diverse populace. Higher education – your ideal form of it, creates spaces for you and the other and to connect the exploration between knowledge, experience and your vivid imagination. (Riddell, 2015, p.2) This is pretty bold, yet “Many universities leaders know it. …Universities have lost their ‘foundational narrative thread’ (n.a., 2011).  Narrative stories allow PSE to educate a populace in a welcoming, rigorous, and academic manner while you connect knowledge, experience and imagination. “We ask one another and ourselves how we know the world and how we can live delightfully, courageously and responsibly within it” (Riddell, 2015).

Ordinariness narrative stories wanted – apply within! You should apply! Are you afraid of your story being judged? Enjoy the path it takes you. Don’t be afraid. “Academics tend to be afraid of storytelling as a teaching device. Being seen as ‘storytellers’ rather than rigorous scholars makes professors queasy” (Pacheco-Vega, 2016). You should all be ordinary researchers and educators. You “could be both a storyteller and qualitative researcher and maybe stories are just data with a soul” ( Pacheco-Vega, 2016). Narrative Policy Growth is what you call it? PSE and especially you and your story deserves to be researched, taught, and enjoyed.


Canadian Council on Learning (2010). Navigating post-secondary education in Canada: The challenge of a changing landscape. Ottawa, ON: Author. Online at

Clark, M., & Rossiter, M. (2008). Narrative learning in adulthood. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 119, 61-70.

Clark, I.,  Trick, D., & Van Loon, R. (2011). Book excerpt: Time to consider a new type of university. University Affairs, online at

Evans, L., & Bertani Tress, M. (2009). What drives research-focused university academics to want to teach effectively? Examining achievement, self-efficacy and self-esteem. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 3(2).

Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (2012). Performance indicators for the public postsecondary system in Ontario. Toronto, ON: Author.

Canadian universities must reform or perish (2011). The Globe and Mail Editorial. Online at

Pacheco-Vega, R. (2016). Syllabus-writing as story telling. University Affairs. Online at

Riddell, J. (2015). The importance of delight in the learning process. University Affairs. Online at

Rossiter, M. (2002). Narrative and stories in adult teaching and learning. Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education – ERIC Digest, 24, 1-2.

Rushowy, K. (Feb 2016). Free tuition for college or university promised to students from low-income families. The Star.

Stewart, P. (2010). Academic values v commercial values. CAUT Bulletin, 57(3). Online at

Tamburri, R. (2011). New kid on the block. University Affairs, 22-25.

Zak, R. (2014) I got my PhD by making YouTube videos -and so can you. University Affairs. Online at













Are Corporations the Solution to Higher Education Issues?


By Lena Miele

Welcome to the Millennial era!  In this era information, technology, personal expression, and freedom have more importance than ever before, especially in education. Prodigies and university drop-outs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have changed the way people communicate (and function) today, but they have also made us question what valued does post-secondary education hold in today’s society? In 2003, Kompf also posed this question by stating, “at some point in the near distant future serious questions will be raised about whether or not institution-based education will continue to be seen as a useful public service for advancing the causes of information, knowledge, and knowing” (p. 9). It appears that we have reached the distant future. Fellowships like Thiel established by Pay Pal co-founder offer students $ 100,000 USD to top undergraduate students to drop out of school to pursue technical projects to provide digital services for the public to make daily tasks easier (Metro News, 2016). Students of this fellowship demonstrate a no-regrets approach to leaving university because unlike past generations, a university degree is no longer a guarantee for job security (Metro News, 2016).

There are examples of prodigies and drops-outs to many debt-ridden, inexperienced, and unemployed university graduates who are concerned and frankly bitter about how the institution of higher education has failed them. University degrees and college diplomas are still required in the workplace, but there appears to be a disconnection between the academic world and the real life-work world. Many people are continuing with post-secondary education by enrolling in college or polytech programs (Coates, 2014) and post-graduate studies in hopes of gaining more skills in order to get permanent-full time employment. Taking this topic from the general public to the academy where graduate students are discussing the future of post-secondary education and how it can serve the needs and wants of students and the greater good of society, the following suggestions/issues surfaced.


  • Governments have cut funding for post-secondary education (Shanahan & Jones, 2007) which increases student debt
  • Universities that focus/ produce more research obtain more grant money. As a result, graduate students in any stream of graduate studies should be eligible for funding to help with education costs.

Experiential learning is of greatest value:

  • Students want more hands on experience in their field of study.
  • Co-op placements should be a compulsory component and credit granting.

Considering these suggestions, researchers in higher education have offered various alternatives for universities; however, an option exists and is flourishing today in academia which appears to be the current solution: private funding from corporations. This funding can and is doing the following:

  • Re-invent the university and provide space for teaching experiential learning. Professors in collaboration with corporations provide students theory with hands on This can be done through curriculum writing, in-class instruction, and co-op placements (CAUT, 2013; Hepburn, 2009). Students gain transferable work place skills because they are learning from the people who will potentially hire them in the near future.
  • Provide funding. Universities and students no longer have to rely only on the government for money. Corporations can expand the campus infrastructure, facilities, and research materials for students. They can also provide part time employment to students who wish to work for them (Bradshaw, 2012).
  • Keep the greater good of society with future generations at the core of education. Corporations working with universities (and students) are taking current ideas and concerns to make things better for the general public such as global affairs, environmental sustainability projects, and technology (CAUT, 2013).

Seems too good to be true…you are right it is… for some people such as those  who value the university being an educational institution rather than a “training arm” for corporations (Brown, 2013, para. 7). For those that value  ” teaching and […]research based on scholarly criteria, not on third party interests” (Bradshaw, 2012 para. 12), and having academic freedom of one’s own research ideas rather than simply “patenting” and “packaging” (Hepburn, 2009 para. 8) with a price tag, it is too good to be true, and frankly not worth it. For other people however, they see it as just another ends to justify the means– students still graduate with a degree and potential job offers.


Bradshaw, J. (2012). The tricky business of funding a university. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from

Brown, L. (2013). Corporate deals seen as dangerous for Canadian universities. The Star. Retrieved from

Canadian Association of University Teachers. (2013). Open for business on what terms: An         analysis of 12 collaborations between Canadian universities and corporations, donors, and governments. Retrieved from

Coates, K. (2014) University vs. college: Why pressuring your kid to go to university is a big mistake. CBC News. Retrieved from

Editorial (2012, Monday October 10). Canadian universities must reform or perish. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from

Editorial (2016, Sunday February 07). Meet the Waterloo dropouts living the digital dream. Metro news. Retrieved from

Hepburn, N.C. (2009 May 8). The entrepreneurial university. Academic Matters OCUFA Journal of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Kompf, M. (2013). Social epistemology, higher education and cultural convergence. In  M. Kompf & P. M  Denicolo (Eds.), Critical Issues in Higher Education (pp. 3-13). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Lowrie, A. (2007). Branding higher education: Equivalence and difference in developing identity. Journal of Business Research, 60, 990-999.

Shanahan, T., & Jones, G.A. (2007). Shifting roles and approaches: government coordination of post-secondary education in Canada 1995-2006. Higher Education Research and Development, 26 (1), 31-43.


How Did We Get Here? A Brief History on PSE Funding over the last Two Decades


By Christopher Yendt

We seem to talk about a funding problem in the university realm of post-secondary education as unique to the Ontario context.  While it is fairly well known, (if not universally known) that Ontario undergraduates provide the greatest contribution through their tuition dollars in comparison to students in other provinces this does not mean that the issues we face in Ontario are not present across the country.

With the increased pressure universities have faced in Ontario, particularly recently, it seems that it is all we can do in the academic world to talk about this problem as one created in the short term.  While there have been murmurs and discussions with operating grants decreasing year over year it wasn’t until 2012 that we reached the boiling point, when university budgets were no longer publicly funded (Brown, 2016) but rather publicly assisted, with student tuition dollars and fees are tasked with making up the shortfall.  No action stands alone so we need to cast an eye back further to try to understand how our provincial post-secondary education systems got to be the relative quagmire it is today.

In the early 1990s, the province of Ontario and Canada as a whole was rocked by a sizable economic downturn that would shift priorities at both levels of government.  Ontario elected an NDP majority government in 1990 and it attempted to mitigate the effects by spurring investment into the provincial economy.  The results have been disputed, but it did cause Ontario’s debt and deficit to soar.  When Mike Harris and the Progressive Conservatives swept to power in 1995 there was little choice but to slash program funding.  Two years prior the federal had hit a record high and this helped facilitate the sweep of the Mulroney Progressive Conservatives by the Chretien Liberals.  Both levels of government would start reductions that would devolve much of the responsibility and funding and training to the provinces and territories, though the deferral the federal government retained its responsibility for “labour mobility across Canada, and continues to fund national youth, Aboriginal, persons with disabilities, at-risk youth, immigrants, apprenticeship and literacy programs” (Fisher et al., 2005).

From the federal government’s standpoint their reduction in financial support came through adjusting transfer agreements, thus provincial governments had to ask institutions to either make cuts or increase tuition.  (Shanahan & Jones, 2007, p. 33) Unfortunately the dramatic cuts to transfer payments by the federal government forced the hand of the provinces, many of whom had no choice but to call for tuition fees to increase or be deregulated altogether. (Shanahan & Jones, 2007, p. 33) These cuts were so substantial that it is estimated between 1994/95 and 2004/05 per student funding “decreased by almost 50%” (Fisher et al., 2005).

While the federal government’s approach to provincial transfers was often changed, the 1995 federal budget served to reshape the entire agreement (Shanahan & Jones, 2007).  The argument now remains split along the lines you would expect, the provincial and federal governments on one side arguing in essence that universities should operate more efficiently and reduce costs in order to balance budgets; meanwhile universities argue that these governments have set them up to fail with various efficiency targets and tuition freezes that has only made their financial situation more dire.  All the while, students are protesting the rising cost of education as they are caught in the middle.

At what point can we come to agreement that the solutions being proposed are bandages to a broken system? We seem vested in developing a fix to the problem as though it is only a few years old when in fact it has been decades in the making.  It is easy to see that without a solution this slide will bring our society back to the point where only the wealthy can afford a university education.  A solution will need to involve participants at all levels, it will need government recognition that universities and colleges need more financial support, but also that they must cooperate more directly to reduce costs.  It means that faculty overall need to be paid less, an often unpopular opinion, but the fact remains that the 66% of the operating budget at Brock goes to salaries/wage/benefits and 65% of that is on Faculty/Teaching Staff, making up 43% of the overall budget (Brock University Budget Report, 2015).  Beyond this there does not seem to be a concrete solution, which is likely why the situation remains such a problem.  It seems that no one has any money, and when they do there are always other priorities.


Brock University, Budget Report 2015-16). (2015). St. Catharines, Niagara Region, ON: Brock     University.

Brown, L. (2016, Jan 13). Student group calls for tuition freeze to combat ‘death of public universities’. The Star. Retrieved from            tuition-freeze-to-combat-death-of-public-universities.html

Fisher, D., Rubenson, K., Clift, R., MacIvor, M., Meredith, J., Shanahan, T., Jones, G., Trottier, C., & Bernatchez, J. (2005). Canadian federal policy and post secondary education. New York, NY: Alliance for International Higher Education Policy Studies.

Shanahan, T., & Jones, G. A. (2007). Shifting roles and approaches: Government coordination  of post-secondary education in Canada, 1995-2006. Higher Education Research and Development, 26(1), 31-43.

Additional Articles of Interest


The Geography of Differentiation


By Christopher Ventura

Institutional differentiation within Ontario’s Post-Secondary Education (PSE) sector began to unfold in real terms in April of 2014, with that being the effective starting date for all of Ontario’s PSE institutional Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs) (Brock University & Ontario Government, 2014). The first round of SMAs negotiated between the government and the 44 PSE institutions in Ontario is set to expire in 2017, so within institutions, discussions are already underway of what the next SMA process may look like.

In 2013, Weingarten, Hicks, Jonker, & Liu published The diversity of Ontario’s universities: A data set to inform the differentiation discussion as a major paper through the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO). The paper’s intention was to show statistical reasoning for the Ontario government’s clustering of institutions in a differentiated system based on, “variables that other jurisdictions have used to differentiate their university systems”.

This blog post will examine a sample of the institutions identified in the cluster described as, the “mainly undergraduate universities that are less involved in graduate education, especially at the PhD level, and attract a lower level of research income” (Weingarten et al., 2013) The institutions identified were Algoma, Brock, Laurier, Lakehead, Laurentian, Nipissing, Ontario College of Art & Design University (OCADU), Trent, and University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). The sample chosen for this blog excludes OCADU, UOIT & Algoma University, because they have a specifically different mandate already, as noted in the HEQCO (Weingarten et al., 2013) paper, and Algoma Universit’s SMA (Algoma University & Ontario Government, 2014).

Each SMA negotiated between the Ontario government and the institutions follow an identical format, which makes it very easy to compare and contrast objectives and differentiation methods. Within each document’s executive summary there is a small section entitled, “[Institutions] key areas of differentiation”, which gives a brief insight into each institution’s vision of how their institution is differentiated from others. By coding each of these sections from the selected institution’s SMAs, patterns, similarities and differences emerge.

Between the six institutions identified, the author identified key phrases and themes that appeared in more than four of the SMAs. The findings of this coding resulted in a further split of the cluster around geographical lines, as well as a clear and measured difference between all of the institutions within the identified cluster, and a sample of those considered a cluster of, “Universities at the upper end of research intensity” (Weingarten et al., 2013).

There was a clear distinction between the SMAs presented by Brock & Laurier, as opposed to those from the other institutions within the cluster, and even the language of the similarities across all institutions varied. The four most prevalent themes were community engagement, a focus on growing research, inclusiveness, and improving access. Not of all these were evident across all institutions in the study, but were noted in at least four of the six SMAs.

Community engagement was cited by all institutions except Laurentian in their SMA (Brock University, Trent University, Nippising University, Lakehead University, Wilfred Laurier University, Government of Ontario, 2014). There was an interesting distinction in the language used by northern institutions versus their southern counterparts. Each of the northern institutions spoke more of engagement and improvement within their community. Lakehead opens their statement by saying, “Lakehead has a significant impact on the economic, social, and cultural life of Thunder Bay, Orillia, and their surrounding communities” (Lakehead University, Government of Ontario, 2014). By contrast, the southern-based institutions used community engagement language in terms of community partnerships.

This distinction between the language of northern institutions and southern ones is further exacerbated by the focus that all of the northern institutions put on access and inclusiveness, which neither Brock or Laurier mentioned as key differentiators. Trent University has the most impactful statement on their focus on these two key points. Their SMA states, “Trent has a culture of inclusivity and has placed a significant emphasis on improving access to postsecondary education by underrepresented groups including Aboriginal, first-generation postsecondary, LGBTQ, and international students” (Trent University & Government of Ontario, 2014).

This is an interesting distinction, because no institution studied has any language around inclusivity, or improving access that is located around the Greater Toronto – Hamilton Area (GTHA) and even beyond that within Southern Ontario. Since Brock University’s and Laurier University’s SMAs have nearly all of the same key tags, perhaps they belong in a separate category. Would it be fair to put all of the northern institutions in a cluster unto themselves?

To take this a step further, the author looked at three of the institutions in the next category identified by the HEQCO (Weingarten et al., 2013) report, that were primarily research intensive, to see if Brock and Laurier were misidentified and placed in the wrong cluster. The difference between the three institutions, Waterloo, McMaster & University of Ottawa could not be more different from the submissions of Brock and Laurier. The three research intensive institutions’ SMAs were primarily focused on their specific research areas and how they were unique within the Higher Education system in Ontario (University of Waterloo, McMaster University, University of Ottawa, Ontario Government, 2014). The differences specifically between Laurier University and University of Waterloo could not be starker, and their main campuses are approximately 1 km apart!

So, what conclusions can be drawn from this analysis?

  1. Brock and Laurier should be in their own cluster, as they are significantly different from their northern sister institutions.
  2. Brock and Laurier are severely lagging behind their fellow southern sister institutions in terms of focus on research.
  3. The Ontario Government needs to be clearer when setting the parameters by which institutions differentiate, as some focused heavily on their research strengths, while others focused on community strengths or being an accessible location.

This surface level investigation has revealed some interesting differences that the geography of institutions has on their core values, which do not diminish in an east/west split, but rather a north/south division. Future research on this topic can be aimed at digging deeper into the SMA submissions by these institutions to examine if there are more fundamental differences between institutions based on age, location, research income, and each’s own unique vision of itself.


Brock University, & Government of Ontario (2014). Strategic Mandate Agreement (2014-2017). Toronto: The Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities.

Lakehead University, & Government of Ontario (2014). Strategic Mandate Agreement (2014-2017). Toronto: The Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities.

Laurentian University, & Government of Ontario (2014). Strategic Mandate Agreement (2014-2017). Toronto: The Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities.

Laurier University, & Government of Ontario (2014). Strategic Mandate Agreement (2014-2017). Toronto: The Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities.

McMaster University, & Government of Ontario (2014). Strategic Mandate Agreement (2014-2017). Toronto: The Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities.

Nippising University, & Government of Ontario (2014). Strategic Mandate Agreement (2014-2017). Toronto: The Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities.

Trent University, & Government of Ontario (2014). Strategic Mandate Agreement (2014-2017). Toronto: The Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities.

University of Ottawa, & Government of Ontario (2014). Strategic Mandate Agreement (2014-2017). Toronto: The Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities.

University of Waterloo, & Government of Ontario (2014). Strategic Mandate Agreement (2014-2017). Toronto: The Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities.

Weingarten, H. P., Hicks, M., Jonker, L., & Liu, S. (2013). The Diversity of Ontario’s Universities: A Data Set to Inform the Differentiation Discussion. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.