Report of the 259th Meeting of the Council of Ontario Universities

Thursday and Friday, February 14 and 15, 2002

D.M.R. Bentley, Academic Colleague

At the meetings of the Academic Colleagues and Council discussions focused on four matters that will be of interest to Senate.

  1. Enrolment Predictions and Funding Commitments by the Provincial Government. On the basis of recent information, the increase in first-year enrolment in 2002-03 has been revised from 1.6% to 3.4% (approximately 4,500 more students) and in 2003-04 from 3.7% to 4.9% (approximately 6,800 more students). Because the Government’s financial allocations were based on the earlier estimate, these figures indicate that, in order fully to fund the growth in the system, existing budget commitments need to be increased by approximately $30,715,000 to cover 2002-03 and $46,185,000 to cover 2003-04. COU is attempting to address this situation in two ways: (1) by requesting further funds from SuperBuild; and (2) by requesting additions to base budget to fund enrolment growth and to offset inflation. Given the unlikelihood that the Government will provide either all or nothing of what is being requested (financial constraints militate against the former, public pressure in response to the "double cohort" against the latter), Ontario’s universities will almost certainly find themselves in their usual position of having to make do with an amount that makes both loud complaint and unmitigated jubilation impossible.
  2. The matter is complicated by the PC leadership race, which will not be decided until March 23. Very clearly, the two candidates who are emerging as front-runners, Ernie Eves and Jim Flaherty, are Conservatives of quite different stripes and agendas, no t least with respect to post-secondary education. (There may be some comfort to be drawn form the fact that Michael Gourley, once again displaying the capacity for self-transformation that he perhaps acquired during his brief stint as Polkaroo, is Chief Policy Advisor to Mr. Eves.) To assist in clarifying the educational agendas of all the leadership candidates, COU has prepared a list of questions, their answers to which will be made publicly available.*

  3. Capacity and Choice. In view of the greater than predicted increase in enrolment that seems certain to occur in 2002-03 and 2003-04, it is by no means certain that the Ontario university system can accommodate all the students who have applied for entrance or that, even if it could, as many students as usual (42%) would be able to get their first choice of university and programme. By the time Senate receives this Report, wide publicity may well have been given to the University of Toronto’s statement to secondary-school counselors to the effect that it will have difficulty in meeting the higher demands outlined in (1), above without further increases in government funding. (The final two sentences of the Toronto statement are worth quoting to convey a sense of its careful tone: "We acknowledge that government, through the Budget and through the SuperBuild Growth Fund, has made a si gnificant start toward providing the resources needed [to cope with the ‘double cohort’]. As a shared investment in the students and families of Ontario, we look forward to receiving a commitment from government for the operating and capital support that will enable us to offer spaces to the larger number of students seeking a place at the University of Toronto.")

(3) Marks Comparability. On the basis of the limited data available from Grade 10, there appears to be less disparity between the marks being awarded to students in the "old" and new curricula than some reports in the media have suggested. Across the system as a whole, students taking the new curriculum are getting marks that are very slightly lower in some subjects (such as Mathematics) and slightly higher in others (such as French and History); however, there may well be wide divergences in the practices of individual teachers, schools, and school boards, and there is some evidence to suggest that students in the Applied stream are having greater difficulty with the new curriculum than students taking University and University/College courses.

(4) University of Ontario Institute of Technology. COU will tactfully attempt to persuade the Government of the folly of using the phrase "University of Ontario" in the bill (139) that will transform this particular egg into a caterpillar. It will also be attempting to ensure that, whatever it is called, the emerging institution will have a senate (or equivalent) as part of its governance structure and that its academic staff will have the protections normally accorded to university faculty.

All in all, the times seem to require from the universities and from Council a combination of nimble footwork, handkerchief fluttering, and stick brandishing that is distressingly similar to Morris dancing.

* Since this report was written, the COU letter has been dispatched to the candidates and Mr. Eves has replied that he is "proposing a second phase of the Ontario Student Opportunities Fund, to build on the commitment [he] made in a previous Budget" and stating his belief "that special provisions must be made and will be made to address the double-cohort issue."