What's being done to expand graduate enrolment?
As outlined in our strategic plan, Engaging the Future, Western aims to double PhD enrolment and significantly increase Masters-level students by 2010-11 from the baseline of 2000-01. Graduate students make invaluable contributions to the scholarship and intellectual life of the university, and growth in their cohort strengthens Western enormously as an institution.
So far, we are making good progress against these goals, and during the next two years, Master’s enrolment is projected to reach 2,712, representing an 18.2 per cent increase over 2006/07, while the number of PhD candidates is expected to rise 17.3 per cent to 1,668. Meeting these targets will also enable Western to access our full share of Provincial graduate funding, which is needed to support recruitment of additional faculty and staff.
The Campus Master Plan, approved by Board and Senate last spring, emphasizes our long-term commitment to graduate studies. It shows that doctoral enrolment doubled from 688 students in 1996 to 1,422 in 2006, and forecasts that it will double again to 2,844 by 2016.
To ensure a successful graduate expansion, several initiatives are underway. First and foremost, all of Western’s Faculties have been working diligently to recruit the best students to our graduate programs. Existing programs are being expanded and innovative new programs are being created. The Faculty of Education, for example, has collaborated with Walpole Island First Nation to introduce a master’s program in Leadership for First Nations Schools, a collaboration which also includes participation by students from Kettle Point , Munsee-Delaware, Chippewa of the Thames, Six Nations and Delaware First Nations. Five other new graduate programs are very close to final approval by the Ontario Council of Graduate Studies, which would allow them to begin this fall.
Mini-conference exceeds expectations
Several university-wide initiatives in support of graduate education are also underway. For instance, in addition to several Faculty-based open houses for prospective graduate students, Western hosted its first-ever campus-wide graduate studies conference last March. More than 300 applicants entertaining offers to study at Western packed the Great Hall to learn more about a range of graduate programs and support services – from financial planning and housing, to finding and working with a mentor. The goal, of course, was to persuade more applicants to choose Western for their graduate studies, and feedback from conference attendees was overwhelmingly positive.
Graduate programs will be family-friendly
The development of new policies and supports for students with families has been another initiative to attract and retain graduate students. In consultation with the Society of Graduate Students, Western Information Services Group, Western Libraries and Campus Recreation, a cross-functional committee has created a new Pregnancy and Parental Leave Policy and put in place some family-friendly practices to ensure that graduate students have the support needed for a smooth transition to and from their leave. During pregnancy leave, for example, graduate students will have uninterrupted access to University facilities and the opportunity to obtain some funding during the period of the leave. The committee is also investigating ways of increasing the number of female graduate students in programs where they are currently underrepresented.
Career skills development enhances student experience
A third initiative is the “360 degree” professional development program, led by the Teaching Support Centre and Faculty of Graduate Studies. The 360-degree initiative consists of several campus orientation sessions, teaching and research programs, and career development workshops, all designed exclusively for preparing students for life inside or outside of academe following completion of their studies. Thus far, this comprehensive approach to providing customized support for graduate students has attracted positive feedback and significant participation. A program aimed at improving and enhancing graduate supervision has been equally well received by students and faculty members.
To publicize better these and other initiatives aimed at providing Canada’s best graduate student experience to prospective applicants, our communications efforts are also increasing. Communications & Public Affairs now works closely with the Registrar’s Office, the Faculty of Graduate Studies and other Faculties to develop print and electronic materials that will build Western’s graduate education profile and augment our increased participation in Graduate and Professional School Fairs across Canada.
Review proposes new directions for graduate education
A further initiative to highlight here is the recently completed review of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. The ad hoc committee charged with reviewing Western’s approach to graduate education issued its draft report in late June. The committee has recommended the creation of a School of Graduate Studies. The proposed new School – to be led by a Vice-Provost and governed through the Graduate Education Council – would replace the existing Faculty of Graduate Studies. This significant structural change would further elevate graduate education as an institutional priority at Western. The full rationale for the proposed change is outlined in detail in the ad hoc committee’s report, which is expected to be considered by Senate in Fall 2007.