Who’s To Blame For Declining Quality?

I’ve now been involved with student government for three years and am entering my second full-time position as a student advocate. After a year of being the Academic Affairs Commissioner for the Alma Mater Society there is one argument that routinely exasperates me. That argument is that students do not value their education.

There exists some cynicism in both the sector and the wider public that students see post-secondary education as consumers do and that universities and colleges are nothing more than degree mills, where students don’t engage with their education.

A recent essay by Academica’s Ken Steele seems informed by this perspective. While Mr. Steele rightly asserts that student attitudes have been informed by the realities of cost increases in higher education, in my opinion he vastly overestimates student apathy. In the opening lines Mr. Steele writes, “Publicly or privately, many academics lament the growing consumer mindset of undergraduate students, who increasingly seem to regard higher education as a commodity they purchase. They price shop for scholarships and bursaries and place the onus on faculty to teach rather more than on themselves to learn.”

First, the assumption that students are cause of our system’s quality issues is questionable. Students are facing an ever-increasing pressure to become educated, a product of an economic system that increasingly requires a post-secondary credential for first-level entry. In reaction to this demand, universities, colleges and the province have drastically increased the number of spaces available. It is when an increase in spaces isn’t met with adequate resources that our commitment to quality slips, a future that no Ontarian desires.

The second troubling sentiment expressed by Mr. Steele is that students should not place the onus of education on their teachers to teach. No student will stand up and argue that they do not have the responsibility to be an engaged learner. However, learning in post-secondary education stems from the professor, not the textbook. Students are spending less face-to-face time with their professors, despite the fact that our survey finds students strongly correlate this face-time with overall satisfaction with teaching quality. Students are becoming increasingly independent learners, yet they pay more than ever for an education.

As a student, if I am paying proportionally more than my parents did thirty years ago then I naturally want to see an increase in the quality of my education. I want to see teachers teaching and I want to learn from our brilliant professors in person, not out of a textbook.

I have been told that to expect this is unrealistic and a consumerist attitude. Post-secondary education is under considerable constraint, despite the efforts of our universities and our government. If it is not possible to provide a higher quality education at a reasonable cost, it should at the very least be clear that students are not the ones at fault.

Kieran Slobodin
VP University Affairs (2011-12)

Originally posted at ousa.ca


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