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Photo Credit/SimonP

There is a lot to be critical of in academia in this day and age. The idea of the purpose of universities has been caught up in an ideological shift. Universities are focusing less on encouraging curiosity-driven research and critical thinking skills, rather opting for a consumer-based idea of education. Commercialization, corporatization, credentialism and professionalization are the ideologiescurrently driving university education. Some effects of this type of ideology on education at U of T were widely reported in mainstream press when it was announced that the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) would no longer offer a Bachelor of Education degree, opting for the Masters of Teaching degree as the sole accredited teaching degree available from U of T. This is not the only symptom of this shift at OISE.


OISE offers a wide breadth of programs within which prospective students can pursue graduate-level education. Outside of just the teaching programs, there are several programs that are meant to offer scholarship and research opportunities about the very idea of education. OISE offers four types of degrees within these academic-based programs: the Masters of Education (MEd), the Doctor of Education (EdD), the Masters of Arts (MA) and the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). The MEd and the EdD, while marketed as “professional” degrees, do not offer any sort of accreditation. The differences in program requirements between these and the other degrees are, in some cases, shockingly miniscule. In fact, in the Social Justice Education Program, where both MA and MEd options are available, a student could potentially do the exact same courses and course requirements but have different degrees in the end.


So what is the difference?


The real difference between these programs is in the cost to the university, the cost to the government, the cost to the student, and how many spaces are offered for each program.


An MA student at OISE will pay a flat fee of $7,115 for the 2015-16 year at OISE. An MEd student will pay $9,580. Full-time MA students receive a funding package for the first year of MA study valued at $15,000, plus the cost of tuition and incidental fees. MEd students do not. The funding package is comprised of money from the government and the institution.


MA students are expensive. The university is bound to provide a funding package to MA students. Not only is there no requirement to provide the same type of funding to MEd students, but the university is able to justify charging MEd students more because of the provincial rules surrounding “professional” degrees.


OISE offered 841 Masters of Education admissions compared to just 75 Masters of Arts admissions for the 2013-14 academic year. In terms of actual registration numbers, 440 MEd. students were registered, and just 52 MA students.


Students are encouraged to apply for the MEd programs to increase their chances of admission. Most are likely unaware that they generate more revenue and are less costly to the university.


The problem with this kind of program is not just in the ethics of charging students who have access to less funding and more money. Students are also subject to academic consequences.

 

OISE’s MA and MEd program paths to PhD and EdD almost mimic the “academic” and “applied” paths to “university” and “workplace” found in Ontario’s Secondary School streams. The MEd and the EdD are billed as more practical programs, while the MA and PhD are marketed as programs for research-oriented scholars. While it is possible to receive an MEd and change streams to a PhD, it is more difficult, especially when the competition pool is mostly students with MAs. Students are encouraged to get professional degrees without knowing how it could negatively affect their academics in future.


Straight out of the Ontario Secondary School playbook, the professionalization of OISE degrees is a symptom of a trend that sees Ontario universities moving toward market-based education. The ethical problems with this shift and the negative effects on students are clear. At a time when the Ontario government is eagerly relinquishing its responsibility to the public to adequately fund an accessible education system (they have recently begun refer to public universities as “publicly-assisted” institutions), students, faculty, staff and university community will need to watch the shift within the university closely, and be ready to resist diminished quality for commercial gain.


Sandy Hudson is 1st year MA student in the Social Justice Education Program at OISE.

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