Hey look, an education debate

Scuffle over Trillium Scholarships just what we need

Most stories about universities have all the media play of a government committee hearing, minus the shouting politicians. However, the Ontario government’s decision to create the Ontario Trillium Scholarship, which will provide 75 foreign doctoral students a full-ride scholarship yearly has broken through the media membrane to become what is known as “an issue.”

To which I say: Good.

Now, whether the $30 million is an efficient use of the government’s money is largely irrelevant to me, and yes, the debate is tinged by economic turmoil and the slightest hint of xenophobia, but you know what? It’s a debate about university policy and priorities, being played out in the open. As this is both a rarity and a good thing, that it is happening should be celebrated.

Let’s face it, post-secondary education is not exactly the most controversial of topics. Despite the billions and billions provincial governments spend on them, it doesn’t get the sort of public debate that health care, the environment, or social services tend to get. And when a debate about post-secondary politics magically breaks out, it tends to exclusively be about tuition, which is like limiting the health-care debate to “public or private?”: Yes, it’s a big issue, yes, it gets people talking, but there is much more to what’s happening in our universities outside of the magic tuition number. And all too often, it’s ignored by the general public.

The Ontario Trillium Scholarship kerfuffle, however, is being discussed. And with it are some interesting questions: How much should large, research-based universities focus on international students? Should their focus be seen as educating provincial students, or also as a tool for expanding the economy?

Ultimately, the net effect on schools will be negligible—but Ontario politicians will have to answer a few more questions about the future of our universities when they hit the hustings next year. Anyway you slice it, that’s a positive.