Glendon advisory committee member co-authors book on transforming academia

The standard model of undergraduate education in Ontario is no longer sustainable. That’s the thesis of a new book, titled Academic Transformation: The Forces Reshaping Higher Education in Ontario, co-authored by Ian D. Clark, Greg Moran, Michael Skolnik and David Trick, a Glendon alumnus.

Trick (BA ’77) is a former assistant deputy minister for postsecondary education in the Ontario government and former chief executive officer & vice-provost of the University of Guelph-Humber. He also sits on the Board of Directors for the York University Alumni Association and on the Principal’s Advisory Committee of Glendon College.

“Ontario faces the challenge of an enrolment boom,” says Trick. “Yet it relies almost exclusively on a model of undergraduate education that says that students should be taught only by faculty members who are actively engaged in original research – the most expensive model of postsecondary institution. Reliance on this research university model does not provide sufficient variety in the types of baccalaureate experiences available to students who have diverse backgrounds, situations, aspirations and learning styles.”

The project got off the ground two years ago, when the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, an independent agency of the provincial government, commissioned a series of papers to explain some of the major issues facing universities and colleges and to identify some priorities for the future. The four contributors were each asked to write papers from their different perspectives.

“We soon discovered that our observations were highly interdependent,” says Trick. “We decided it would be more constructive and stimulating to write a single book as joint authors.”

The result is Academic Transformation (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009), the research for which was funded by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Each participant brought a wealth of relevant experience to the project. Clark, a professor in the School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Toronto, worked for 22 years in the federal government in economic and budget offices before leading the Council of Ontario Universities – the advocacy organization for Ontario’s universities – for nine years. 

Moran has spent his professional life as a professor, researcher and senior administrator at the University of Western Ontario, where he was also provost & vice-president academic.

Skolnik has devoted much of his academic career at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education to the study of the organization and governance of higher education systems in Canada and abroad, and has a particular interest in the relationship between universities and colleges.

Right: David Trick

Trick spent two decades in the finance and postsecondary education ministries of the Ontario government before becoming the founding CEO of the University of Guelph-Humber, a joint college-university institution, and then a consultant in higher education.

Academic Transformation argues that a number of new strategies are worth considering. These include creating new teaching-focused universities, promoting greater use of teaching-only full-time faculty positions, and renewing the three-year undergraduate degree. Other recommendations propose creating an open university that provides full recognition for prior learning and makes better use of instructional technologies, improving college-university transfer and encouraging institutional differentiation through a combination of clear government policy, regulation and financial incentives.

Trick says that the project’s most difficult challenge was trying to analyze the pressures that higher enrolments and increased expectations for faculty research are placing on Ontario’s higher education system. “It took us several months to fit all of the pieces together. Having four co-authors is an unusual process, but the book is better as a result.”

As for the target audience, it couldn’t be broader or more inclusive. The book can inform faculty, staff, administrators and students at postsecondary institutions, as well as government officials, about how the system as a whole works and whether it is working as well as it could. Parents are another target group, as they are increasingly interested in knowing whether they can count on the higher education system to prepare their children for the future. 

“Our best estimate is that there will be 60,000 to 100,000 more students wanting to attend university by the year 2021. The decisions we make in the next several years will affect what kind of education is available to them,” says Trick. “It is our hope that the book will give readers a better understanding of the forces that are reshaping the higher education system.”

Trick says a number of policy-makers are expressing interest in the book. They recognize that higher education doesn’t just happen and that there is a need for leadership in the field of education policy. “We must ensure that we have enough spaces for the growing number of students; that students have access to high-quality programs; and that education is provided at a cost that is affordable for government as well as students. The global economic recession has made such policy leadership all the more urgent.

“Glendon is a wonderful model of what university education can be,” says Trick about his alma mater. “It focuses on students, it offers opportunities for them to engage with faculty and with each other, and it provides an environment where learning can continue outside the classroom. Ontario needs to find new ways of offering a high-quality experience to an ever-increasing number of students.”

Submitted by Marika Kemeny, Glendon communications officer