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Back to school 2017 – what is the media saying?

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Kayla MacIntosh, Junior Communications Officer, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

Every September, millions of Canadian students return to campus for a new academic year. In this blog you can read about a variety of conversations happening in the post-secondary education sector this fall.

A big back to school announcement from the federal government is the roll-out of $73 million in wage subsidies to employers  over four years in order to create 10,000 student work placements for post-secondary students. The need to bridge the gap between university and the workplace is being acknowledged as work integrated learning opportunities are increasingly more available to Canadian students.

Canada’s academic reputation is holding steady with the University of Toronto placing at No. 22 in Times Higher Education World University Rankings and five other Canadian institutions in the top 200. International applications have also had their own success, with the number of international students on a steady rise from 83,000 in 2006 to more than 175,000 in 2016.

Tuition costs are top of mind at this time of year. According to Statistics Canada University tuition fees have jumped an average of 3.1 per cent for undergraduate programs for the 2017-2018 academic year, over the previous year. With tuition costs having has climbed more than 40 per cent in the past decade, two in five Canadian students say they have no savings and two-thirds don’t have an RESP. Many students are going into debt, but research shows that graduates with a post-secondary credential out-perform and out-earn people without, supporting the idea that more education makes you richer.

Looking at solutions for the rise in the cost of education, former Director of Research Policy on the Federation’s Board, Lisa Philipps, says that tax policy is not the way to improve access to post-secondary education. “The re-balancing of public support for post-secondary education towards direct spending on students is an important and necessary shift that will level the playing field regardless of gender, generation, or income,”she argues.

Despite the enrollment decline in some humanities programs and the increased public focus on STEM degrees as pathways to “high-paying fields,” , the value of liberal arts continues to be a hot topic. Statistics Canada data shows that between 2005-2015 Canadian enrolment in STEM-related disciplines rose by more than 32 per cent, while enrolment in the humanities and social sciences increased by just less than 17 per cent; nevertheless, graduation rates remain close with a 36 per cent increase in STEM degrees, and a 31 per cent increase in social sciences and humanities.

Institutions across Canada are also altering their programs to integrate skills from both arts and applied disciplines in the curricula science. An example of this is McMaster University’s newly developed Integrated Business and Humanities program, designed to give commerce students the skills of a liberal arts education such as communication, writing, critical-thinking and problem-solving.

In Ontario, the provincial government plans to move forward in creating the first stand-alone French-language university, governed by and for francophones – likely in downtown Toronto. This launch is being supported by two of Ottawa’s bilingual universities alongside Francophone Affairs Minister Marie-France Lalonde, who said “Francophone culture and the French language have always been essential to Ontario’s identity and prosperity”.

And finally, there is much happening as campuses across the country seek to Indigenize their institutions and transform the educational experience. The concentrated effort to improve and incorporate Indigenous values and education in Canadian institutions can be seen as a response to the calls of action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Thanks to Victoria Island University’s $13.5 million increase in funding for Indigenous students the 2017 school year began with a new program aimed at removing barriers for Indigenous learners. This includes financial help with tuition, textbooks and living allowance, as well as emotional, cultural and spiritual support by bringing Indigenous culture to the forefront. Indigenous students at Western University are also walking into a more inclusive campus this fall, with student housing that now incorporates cultural education into the everyday lives of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students. Further west, the University of Saskatchewan is looking at making Indigenous content mandatory for all students within the next two years and is calling indigenization one of its highest priorities.

Exciting university programming news can also be found in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia this fall with students from across the country taking part in a one semester groundbreaking Reconciliation Studies program. Offered by the Haida Gwaii Higher Education Society (HGHES) this program was developed by Indigenous and non-Indigenous contributors who explain that Indigenous realities a huge part of Canada that gets overlooked in Canadian history and are targeting it as the main focus of the new program.

Importantly, of all students returning to campus this fall, Indigenous students represented the largest hike in Ontario’s Student Assistance Program (OSAP) applications this year, rising by 36 per cent to almost 7,500 since 2016.

I’m looking forward to the discussions that occur as the 2017-2018 academic year unfolds, but for those of you who enjoy a more statistical view, Universities Canada has released a new set of Back to school 2017 quick facts.

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