U of T wants fewer students

President says education will be improved by reducing undergrad enrolment on downtown campus

David Naylor, President of the University of Toronto, mused about reducing enrolment on his downtown mega-campus, in today’s Globe and Mail.

U of T is by far the largest university in the country, with most of its nearly 60,000 full- and part-time undergrads (yes, 60,000) going to school on the downtown St. George campus. Downtown is also home to most of the university’s more than 12,000 graduate students.

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“We believe we can be better at undergraduate education on the St. George campus if we just reduce the numbers,” Dr. Naylor said. “Right now we have an awful lot of undergraduate students relative to our faculty and staff.” And Naylor noted there is no enthusiasm on his part or from his faculty for stuffing more undergrads into the downtown campus, or for building a third suburban satellite campus. (U of T has suburban campuses at U of T Scarborough and U of T Mississauga). According to the Globe, “in the short term, the university will increase undergraduate spots by adding spaces at its two growing suburban campuses. But over several years, Dr. Naylor says the plan is to cut undergraduates downtown by more than those extra spots.”

In an interesting twist, Naylor told the Globe’s Elizabeth Church that a big, research-intensive school is not best for all undergrads, and that students benefit from having the option of attending small undergraduate-focussed institutions, such as those in the Maritimes.

“Some students come here and have the time of their lives but it is not the easiest experience compared to a very small undergraduate institution,”Naylor said. “In the final analysis you’ve got to be a self-starter and you need to have a real sense of who you are and what you are about because there is not a lot of spoon-feeding.”

The U of T, like many other large research universities, has generally performed poorly on measures of undergraduate satisfaction and engagement. Smaller universities that focus on undergraduate education,in contrast, have generally performed quite well on these measures.