On Campus

Quality is declining, says professors’ group

But can we really blame inadequate funding?

In a survey completed by 2,300 Ontario faculty members this spring, 43 per cent of professors agreed that the quality of undergraduate education has declined over the past five years. Only 28 per cent disagreed. Those are worrying figures. It’s no surprise that they prompted headlines.

The survey sponsor, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (a professor unions’ group), was quick to blame a lack of government funding for the perceived drop in quality.

“Universities are straining to accommodate the new students with inadequate resources, and the cracks are beginning to show,” OCUFA president Constance Adamson said in a release.

But wait a minute. Are the resources really inadequate?

Professors, it seems, are divided over that very question. I know that because it’s in the longer report on OCUFA’s survey. Almost an equal number of faculty members agreed (42 per cent) and disagreed (43 per cent) that they have “enough resources to provide high-quality education.”

The fact that 42 per cent of faculty report having enough resources to properly teach seems doubly surprising when you factor in the natural human tendency to always ask for more.

Then again, it shouldn’t be too big a shock that many professors feel they’ve got it good. University funding in Canada is the envy of professors around the world this week. We came first in “resources” in Universitas 21’s ranking of the best countries for higher education and third overall.

So why is OCUFA saying that inadequate resources are the problem, when professors aren’t so sure of that themselves, and when our resources are higher than just about everywhere else?

It’s worth taking a closer look at what else they highlighted—and left out—of the release.

For example, OCUFA wants you to know that workloads are up (73 per cent agree), but they don’t mention that professors are split on whether that’s even a problem. In fact, more professors told OCUFA that their workloads are manageable (45 per cent) than unmanageable (39 per cent).

Then again, perhaps it’s not surprising OCUFA chose to present the information this way. They’re in the business of advocating for higher pay and more tenured professor jobs, and that’s an easier job when the public believes that universities are starved of taxpayer cash.

But before accepting that there isn’t enough, perhaps we should take a closer look.

Josh Dehaas is the editor of Maclean’s On Campus. Follow him on Twitter @JoshDehaas. Follow @maconcampus and like us on Facebook to keep up with our daily opinion and university news.

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