Monday, April 06, 2015

Coates on higher education

Quick reaction: does this sound at all plausible as a future education policy initiative in any Canadian province?
Canada could dramatically improve the quality of university education by cutting enrolment as much as 25 to 30 per cent while maintaining budgets at roughly the same level.
There's a government somewhere that will shrink university sizes by 25 or 30 per cent -- and keep funding at the same level?  Ya think?

About this point in Career Ready, (it downloads from here), the new report on Canadian education policy by my old friend and fellow historian Ken Coates for the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, I began recalling an old theory of mine. When universities really screw up, I look to see if the one in charge is a former history professor turned administration guy.  No every time, but....

Having fled the university decades ago and never looked back, I can find much to sympathize with in Ken's analysis. Sure, they are too big, take in too many people for whom they are ill-suited, don't prepare students well for many important careers (or do so at great expense and mostly by neglecting their real work), and so on. I can believe we would all be better off if fewer people pursued university educations and more resources were devoted to colleges and other job-market-oriented institutions.

But then he argues that education should be subsidized by business because business is better at setting education policy than government; and that the real problem is: Kids Today! ("the current generation of young people is defined by a sense of entitlement and an expectation that their lives will somehow unfold along a predetermined and positive trajectory."). And he's lost me.

I hope to get back to a further consideration of Ken's recommendations.  On the whole, however, I'm still of the view that a) the kids are alright, and b) the solution is not in cutting supply, but in a fall in demand for university places, and c) business will never really have a clue about education policy, because its own interests and biases will always come first.

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