Thomas Lesser: Ontario’s Education System Is Failing Students

Ontario’s education system is failing its own students. Overall, students at Ontario’s universities are leaving schools short of their potential.

A new report from the Institute for Research on Public Policy warns that Ontario is falling behind in the number of international students being recruited. Not only that, but people who graduate from Ontario universities are leaving the province without the skills they need to compete in the global market, creating a lost opportunity for Ontario.

The report points out that economic research shows that students’ average lifetime earning is about 4% higher when they finish college or university in their home province instead of in another province. Given that Ontario students graduate with an average debt of $35,000 to $50,000, the value of these higher-level graduates, who earn higher wages in Ontario, isn’t being fully realized.

The same report found that students have little opportunity to secure internships or part-time jobs when they finish school, leaving them unprepared for the job market. It also found that these college or university graduates in Ontario are being trained by educators and university administrators who didn’t go to school, are deeply underpaid, and work an average of only 30 hours a week. While Ontario universities often boast of having high-value, innovative faculty who are leading the world in education, their teaching methods and research to date do not demonstrate their value.

To fix Ontario’s education system, three recommendations were put forward to the Ontario Liberal government. Students, parents, and graduates can all take part in forming their own plan.

First, employers and employers’ organizations in Ontario should be asked to report to the Ministry of Education on how they plan to hire Ontario graduates. The Ministry of Education needs to undertake a thorough review of how the Ontario college and university system is delivering on its mission. If they don’t follow through on their commitments, it’s unlikely that they will attract more students into the province’s universities and colleges.

Second, all current students and prospective students should be given the opportunity to have their university transcripts audited so they can look over their results, see if there are opportunities in their academic careers, and explore the possibility of transferring to other universities and colleges. The government should also consider whether educational outcomes should be presented in different ways to different populations, such as by offering a separate program for international students or those who have taken an accelerated program.

Third, if Ontario is to compete globally in terms of the skills its students have, the Education Quality and Accountability Office should make an effort to proactively collect comprehensive data. At present, EMQO only releases annual reports, but this is no longer good enough. Digital information such as course enrollments and learning outcomes needs to be made available to companies and students through a web portal. It’s not only important for the government to record student achievement and success, but also to tell employers the results of their efforts and back them up with quantifiable data and outcomes.

Another recent report from the Office of the Auditor General said that Ontario’s Higher Education Review Board – which is supposed to provide oversight of the province’s post-secondary system – has done too little to monitor changes in students’ academic progress. Based on the report, it’s not surprising that students don’t feel accountable to institutions if they fail to respond to reports and data that show that students aren’t performing as they should be.

Ontario’s education system is failing in many ways. The report makes three recommendations for politicians to consider, and it’s important that Ontarians work together to address the wide range of issues that are wrong with the education system.

Thomas Lesser is the executive director of the Ontario Federation of Students (OFS).

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