What will postsecondary education look like by the time my kids get there?
Look for increased diversity in the student mix, continued enrolment growth, greater student mobility between institutions and technology-enabled changes to program delivery.
Continued immigration and growth in the number of adult learners will impact PSE over the next 10 years, according to HEQCO research, as will efforts to increase participation by groups that are currently underrepresented. Anticipating the growth, the Ontario government announced a plan to create 60,000 new student spaces at colleges and universities by 2015-2016.
Ontario is the lead destination for Canadian immigrants, and their children are more likely to go to college or university than children whose parents were born in Canada. The study Pathways of Immigrant Youth, finds that immigrants tend to have high expectations for success, which motivates their children to succeed. The influence is most evident in East Asian immigrants and least evident in Caribbean and Latin American immigrants.
Tomorrow’s enrolment numbers could be even higher if the PSE participation gap between men and women continues to close. According to What About the Boys? An Overview of Gender Trends in Education and the Labour Market in Ontario, while the percentages of male and female students going to college or university have increased, the rate of increase has been greater for females, who comprised approximately 55 per cent of college and university applications in 2007. The report notes, however, that the 20-year trend may be stabilizing as growth in the gender gap slows.
The changing face of PSE
Adult learners will also contribute to changes in PSE enrolment, program delivery and services. Research shows that the highest proportion of Ontarians with unmet education or training needs is in the 25 to 54 age group. And even for well-educated and employed adults, advancements in technology and rapidly changing skill requirements will make it increasingly necessary to pursue new skills and upgrade existing ones.
Those same technological advances are already reshaping how and where students learn. A HEQCO forum on teaching strategies for large classes found that innovative teachers and new technologies could render extinct the traditional lecture-only approach to large-enrolment classes. From downloadable interactive lectures to on-line course communities – new techniques are personalizing learning and sparking creativity in classes large and small, whether on-site or by distance learning.
Options for diverse student needs
If current trends continue, tomorrow’s Ontario’s PSE system will reflect growing diversity in student educational pathways, offering more flexibility and mobility between educational institutions. The HEQCO study Forging Pathways: Students Who Transfer Between Ontario Colleges and Universities found that the number of students continuing their education by transferring between colleges and universities has increased over the last decade.
Almost 8 per cent of college graduates furthered their education in a degree program in 2008-2009, up from 5.3 per cent in 2001-2002. The percentage of college students who are university graduates has also increased: 10 per cent in 2009-2010 compared to 8 per cent a decade earlier. Students are voting with their feet, and the provincial government has responded, allocating almost $74 million over five years to implement a credit transfer system that will help students complete their studies sooner, create new credit transfer pathways, provide greater supports for transfer students and better information about opportunities available to them.
The global trend in PSE is toward encouraging participation, allowing students a choice of programs with opportunities for changing direction, and supporting those who want to update or enhance their knowledge and skills. According to the study, Encouraging Participation: Trends in Pathways to Postsecondary Education, higher education is becoming more attuned to ever-evolving skills in the labour market, moving toward a system that offers diverse pathways through all postsecondary options in partnerships with students, parents, community partners, business and industry.
The idea is working
Ontario’s postsecondary sector is already seeing more participation in work-based learning programs ranging from cooperative education to apprenticeships. A recent Ipsos Reid survey found that almost a quarter of Ontarians with some postsecondary experience have participated in co-op education alone; proportionately more than any other Canadian province. And with the establishment of the Ontario College of Trades in 2009, Ontario is expanding its focus on the apprenticeship and skilled trades system, where currently more than 120,000 apprentices are learning trades. HEQCO research finds that postsecondary institutions and the employers involved in work-integrated learning view it as an important part of the student experience, preparing students to enter the labour market with relevant, transferable and marketable skills.
Today’s trends suggest that tomorrow’s postsecondary institutions will focus on improving the skills students will need for their personal and professional lives. According to the research report A Fine Balance: Supporting Skills and Competency Development, there is growing emphasis on innovative and creative skills such as literacy in information and communications technology, mathematics, entrepreneurialism and social skills, augmented by global perspectives, language skills and cultural sensitivity.
A student-centered system
HEQCO research also serves as a catalyst for discussion and debate on the future of postsecondary education. According to the HEQCO-commissioned book Academic Transformation: The Forces Reshaping Higher Education in Ontario, the province’s universities have gravitated from primarily teaching-based to so-called research-intensive institutions, “the most costly, volatile and risky model of university education.” As a result, universities have struggled to balance the high costs of generating research-based knowledge with the growing enrolment of students who have diverse backgrounds, needs and learning styles. The authors say the PSE system and its students could benefit from a greater variety of degree granting institutions, such as those that focus primarily on undergraduate teaching, offer three-year and pre-professional degrees, that create a greater role for colleges in degree-granting and increase focus on trades training and underprepared learners.
If the future of higher education is a more student-centered and responsive system, one that gives students greater clarity on which institutions best serve their career and personal goals, system adjustments will be required. Another catalyst of discussion is the HEQCO report The Benefits of Greater Differentiation of Ontario’s University Sector, which challenges universities to be accountable based on their mission and priorities, to set measureable goals based on their strengths, and to expect that new provincial funding will hinge on whether those goals are met. The report says that this differentiated approach would produce a postsecondary system that is “more cohesive, more fluid, more sustainable and higher quality.”
Informing the future
HEQCO research will continue to inform thinking and decision-making on key issues around access, quality and accountability in Ontario’s postsecondary sector, with particular emphasis on those groups that are currently under-represented in the system. Among projects in the coming year, we will continue to explore socio-cultural barriers to PSE with a focus on under-represented groups, as well as educational pathways for adult learners and the state of access for Ontario’s highest academic achievers. Our quality-based research will explore teaching effectiveness, measurement of learning outcomes and doctoral degree-holder alignment with labour markets. From an accountability perspective, HEQCO research will further the discussion on differentiated funding models and financial sustainability of institutions and the postsecondary sector, informed by best practices throughout the world. Finally, in partnership with Ontario’s PSE institutions and community groups, HEQCO will expand its involvement in interventions to address gaps in postsecondary access.
The studies referenced in this report to the community are but a few of the 30 research reports issued by HEQCO in 2010-11, with another 40 underway for release in the coming year. Since 2007 when HEQCO first became operational, we will have conducted or commissioned 126 research studies in postsecondary access, quality and accountability. Let HEQCO keep you current with the latest evidence-based research on the trends in access, quality and accountability that are shaping postsecondary education.
Mom-of-three Alexandra Kyriakos on tomorrow’s higher education
Will I be able to go to college or university?
Will I graduate with the skills I need to be successful personally and professionally?