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Faculty sounds ‘warning bell’ for post-secondary education

TORONTO — Just in time for the new school year comes an informal sampling of Ontario faculty opinions that suggests professors will be giving students fewer essays to write, and spending less time helping those who need it.

TORONTO — Just in time for the new school year comes an informal
sampling of Ontario faculty opinions that suggests professors will be
giving students fewer essays to write, and spending less time helping
those who need it.


An analysis of a survey of faculty and librarians also cites larger
classes and the cancellation of programs for their perception that the
quality of post-secondary education, particularly at the undergraduate
level, is falling.


Among the findings being released Tuesday, 55 per cent of respondents reported class sizes had increased over the past year.


Ontario already had the highest student-faculty ratio in the country,
with an average of 26 students for each lecturer or professor.


``The perception and the reality of classroom size is an acute problem in Ontario universities,’’ the analysis concludes.


Larger class sizes and a tendency to replace retiring or full-time
faculty with part-time or contract help is also impacting how professors
and students interact, the survey indicates.


Almost 40 per cent those professors asked said they had less time to help students outside the classroom.


About one-third said they relied more heavily on multiple-choice rather
than essay-style exams as a way to cope with larger classes and keep
costs down.


One of the more disturbing findings is that half the of 1,400
respondents reported the cancellation of classes or programs to meet
budget constraints.


Prof. Mark Langer, president of the Ontario Confederation of University
Faculty Associations, called the result of the informal poll a ``clear
warning bell’’ of the ``downward spiral’’ in education quality.


``Decision makers seem to be treating universities as factories that are
stamping out widgets,’’ Langer said from Carleton University, where he
teaches film studies.


``You can’t treat minds like widgets.’’


Universities Minister John Milloy disputed the notion students are being short-changed.


Operating grants to universities have risen 77 per cent from $1.9 billion in 2002-2003 to $3.2 billion in this past fiscal year.


While part of the increase is due to enrolment growth, Milloy said
dollars-per-student have increased by 28 per cent during that time and
surveys show high levels of student satisfaction.


``Quality is not declining ... it’s in fact the opposite,’’ Milloy said.


``We’ve seen a phenomenal investment in the system.’’


According to the new survey, more government money earmarked for
graduate spaces appeared to have had the desired effect, with 36 per
cent of faculty reporting more Master’s and PhD students in their
departments.


The survey this spring asked faculty to focus on what they thought had
become of education in the period 2005-2008, when the Ontario government
rolled out its Reaching Higher program.


Only 16 per cent said they believed the quality of education had improved in that time frame.


By contrast, 42 per cent of respondents said they believed quality had
fallen, a ratio that rose to 57 per cent for the 2009-2010 academic
year.


The vast majority of those asked called for new full-time hiring to cope with what they see as the deteriorating conditions.