Exploring Shifts in Applied Research and Faculty Workload at Ontario’s Public Colleges

Exploring Shifts in Applied Research and Faculty Workload at Ontario’s Public Colleges was written by Ryan Tishcoff, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Applied research activity at Ontario’s public colleges has increased substantially since the introduction of college degrees.

A new data brief by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) finds that since the introduction of bachelor’s degrees and applied research into Ontario’s college sector, the amount of applied research activity has increased substantially. Additionally, full-time college faculty positions have become less teaching intensive and more focused on complementary functions. Despite these shifts, average total workload hours have remained steady. These trends may impact institutional cultures, faculty recruitment, retention strategies and operating costs in numerous ways deserving of closer analysis.

Ontario’s public college sector experienced two significant expansions since the turn of the century: the Postsecondary Choice and Excellence Act (2000) allowed colleges to offer four-year degrees in applied areas of study and the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act (2002) authorized public colleges and faculty to conduct applied research. HEQCO set out to explore the effects of the college sector’s expanded mandate by considering the scale of research taking place at Ontario’s public colleges as well as how the role of faculty may have changed. HEQCO built two datasets based on NSERC College and Community Innovation program grants received by college faculty from 2004-05 to 2020-21 as well as CAAT Academic Workload Surveys from 1999-00 to 2017-18.

Research activity increased across the college sector, in both the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technologies (CAATs) and the Institutes of Technology and Advanced Learning (ITALS). Partnerships with local industry contribute to the magnitude of applied research that is conducted across the sector.

As the college sector’s mandate continues to expand, future research in this area should focus on how applied research is reflected in faculty workload hours and what proportion of complementary function hours are spent conducting research. Further research is also needed on what motivates college faculty to engage in applied research and how colleges approach funding this research.