Let’s get one thing straight before we start. You’ll hear a lot of people talk about people having the right to education. Education is NOT a right. Access to education is a right. Education itself is an accomplishment. All should be allowed to try but not all will achieve an education. Saying education is a right is like saying everyone has the right to sing on a CD that goes platinum. We may as well say that everyone has the right to bowl a 300 game or get a hole in one. It’s easy to identify these things as accomplishments not rights. Let’s get it together and realize that education is something that a person accomplishes, not something somebody gives to another person. We tend to confuse education with a degree. A degree is supposed to be an indicator of accomplishment, nothing more, nothing less.
There’s another important point that a lot of people, particularly students, seem to forget. Universities are not just about teaching – research is also essential. It’s what makes university different from college or high school.
How is my ideal university structured?
1) Each university in the country would have a fixed maximum enrolment based on the potential number of students available – allowing for a maximum of 30% international students. Some smoothing would be required here. Potential students would then have to write a simple entrance exam guaranteeing that the student can read, write, and do basic arithmetic. The seats would be offered in sequence to students, with the highest scoring students selecting the university they wish to attend first. Once the seats at a university are full, on to the next one, or you can wait and re-write the entrance exam next year. This guarantees a basic skill set for incoming students and rewards bright or well prepared students. We clearly cannot depend on the public high school system to do this. This would also serve as a check on the public education system.
2) No distinct programs in first year. All university students will take a relatively common first year, consisting of some mathematics, English, a second language (in which they do not already have training), physical science, social science, and humanities. In all cases there should be at least 2 or 3 different levels offered. Students can challenge for credit in any of these courses with the exception of second language (they’re supposed to learn something new).
3) Classes would be large at the first and second year level (around 100) and much smaller (20 or so) at 3rd and 4th year levels.
4) Students not maintaining minimum standing would be "invited to reconsider their academic options". The basic idea would be you work or you leave.
The real trick will be figuring out how to pay for it. The ideal is to balance control between students and the academy itself. If left solely to students there is a strong likelihood of rapid swings in enrolment and program quality. So the funding would look a little different than what we see today.
1) Government (federal not provincial) would be directly responsible for the maintenance of buildings and grounds. That’s to say the fixed costs.
2) Government would also be responsible for library holdings and electronic journal access. Electronic access would be standardized across the country and institutions. Library acquisition budgets would be based on the formula $ = Base + b * students. The key to this system would be a vastly improved system of interlibrary loans.
3) Government would also be responsible for the 75% of the salary of faculty, but NOT administration. Faculty salaries would have the same base (with regional and discipline supplements).
4) The remaining operating revenue would be tuition driven. Tuition would cover 25% of faculty salaries plus any administration costs. It would thus be apparent to students and everybody else how much is being spent on administration. Any personnel not teaching a full course load will be classed as administration (if you only teach 2 courses – 50% admin).
5) Student loans would be available to any who have a seat at a university. These student loans will cover tuition, books, a room in residence, and a meal plan. Anything else is the student’s or the parent’s responsibility. The idea is loans will keep you alive and able to study but that’s it. No income testing or anything like that.
6) Student loans would be repaid through the income tax system. A portion (up to all) of the student loan maybe forgiven upon working in Canada or a specified region of the country. If we need more MD’s in PEI, the provincial government can buy and offer to forgive student loan debt for MD’s working in the province. Those leaving the country before paying off student loans must either continue to make payments or forfeit citizenship. International students would be required to pay the entire cost of their education.
7) The average employment outcomes of graduates will be publicly available to potential students. As student loans are being re-paid through the income tax system this data will be collected already.
8) Programs not maintaining minimum enrolments for extended periods of time(to be decided on a program by program basis) will closed. Programs with exceedingly heavy enrolments for an extended period of time will be first audited for quality and graduate satisfaction. If the audit is positive, resources may be transferred from closing programs. If the audit is negative no additional funds will be transferred.
That’s it. There’s still academic freedom. No service model- this isn't like going for pizza. The academy actually works as the difference incomes still shows. There are ways to make it better, but we’ve got to get over the idea that the system is fundamentally broken at the teaching end. The breakdown is at the administrative end. If graduate outcomes are known, students can vote with their feet. By fixing the number of seats we prevent the current race to the bottom. It’ll never happen this way, but that’s my dream.
Let's hear it for Good Ol' IOU!