Ontario’s universities are under unprecedented pressure to evolve into a flexible learning environment where students can study in the class, online and in a workplace-like setting.
Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Glen Murray says a newly released discussion paper on post-secondary education will herald in a new era no less revolutionary than the arrival of the college system to Ontario.
“What we see as a global trend right now is this idea that students learn at their own pace, they learn in their own style and we’re going to give students a lot more choices about how they do course work, when they do their course work and the methods that they use to learn,” Murray said.
Moving to online lectures in some courses, for instance, will free professor time which, in addition to saving money, allows for more student face time and the kind of meaningful research that makes Ontario competitive around the world, he said.
While the discussion paper talks about moving to a three-year standard for undergraduate degrees, as is done in Europe, Murray said in the future students will be given an option of finishing at their own speed which could mean two years in some cases.
One recommendation in the paper that is likely to be implemented is the move to standard credits in the first two undergraduate years – credits that can be transferred seamlessly between all universities in the province.
“One of the things that we have to do … it’s a key priority, is make sure that a credit is a credit is a credit,” he said.
As more universities move to incorporate digital degrees, Ontario institutions find themselves competing not just with each other, but with schools in other provinces and countries.
“When Athabasca, which is an entirely integrated online university, when 30-50% in any given year… of their students are Ontario residents – eating, sleeping, working in Ontario are they’re going to a university in Alberta – we’ve got to make sure we’ve got something equivalent or better than Athabasca here,” Murray said. “I think this will be the biggest rethink of education since (former premier) Bill Davis instituted the college system in the ‘60s and ‘70s.”