Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ontario to expand graduate schools

That's the headline of an article appearing on page A7 of today's issue of the Globe and Mail (Vancouver Edition).

Apparently, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has announced that the provincial government will pledge $240 million (CAD) to the provinces universities to increase the number of graduate students by 50% "as they prepare to accommodate the double-cohort class." This whole story reeks of insufficiency, both in thought and money.

For those who don't know, the double-cohort class refers to the two-year group of students who all graduated highschool in Ontario at the same time, in spring 2003, because that was the last year Ontario ran grade 13 (aside: what's with Canadian provinces and weird secondary education? Grade 13 in Ontario, CEGEP in Quebec...).

OK, so in the fall of 2003 Ontario universities were all panicky about dealing with twice as many first-year applicants. Stories from that time almost universally pander to the idiotic (mostly from parents) belief that every 18 or 19 year old highschool graduate going to university would go to an Ontario university. Um, hello? Two thirds of the population of Canada lives OUTSIDE Ontario - and we even have universities out here! Universities in Ontario seemed to handle the double-cohort just fine, since even Ontario-centric news sources (like the Globe and Mail) stopped blathering about it by about October of 2003.

Now, Dalton and friends are stirring the pot again, this time because the double-cohort bulge is apparently getting ready for graduate school? Dude, WTF? Any person with half a functioning brain (for example, a recent highschool graduate) knows how to dodge the over-subscription problems associated with the double-cohort - like taking a year off (which lots of people do, anyways), or going to some other province (there are 9 others). So in the fall of 2003, the problem was reduced by some fraction as people adjusted. We can thus discount the bulge by that fraction - let's make up some numbers (YAY!) and say 10% of the double-cohort graduates avoided Ontario universities in the fall of 2003. So the d-c (I'm getting tired of writing it) is now 90% of it's former scariness, or about 1.8 times larger than a standard cohort.

Now we get into the variance and uncertainty of university (and I'm not talking about second year organic chem labs). A four-year degree (not necessarily common to all B.A. and B.Sc. programs) *should* spit out grads in the spring of 2007 - but that *should* is in star-quotes for a reason - ask 100 people with BAs and/or B.Scs how many years lie between entry and exit to university, and many (I don't know what fraction, sorry) will tell you more (much more) than 4 years. So our d-c bulge gets another discount for grads in the spring of 2007. Let's make up more numbers, and say that only 75% of 2003 entrants will graduate in 2007 (we'll assume that number includes some slower "victory lap" students who enrolled before September 2003). 0.90 x 0.75 x 2 = 1.35 times the normal-year number of grads (keep in mind I'm totally pulling these numbers out of my ass).

The conversion rate of recent-Bachelors to graduate programs (any program, though the number of straight-into-PhD is probably miniscule) is pretty low - but that doesn't matter, because we'll assume that the d-c doesn't have a different rate than a normal year.

So we have more-than-normal recent grads considering graduate school - but they've been bombarded with this d-c propaganda since 1984 (ie, they were mostly unborn, unconcieved, possibly even unintended), do you think any of them decided to further ameliorate the d-c effects, perhaps by taking a year off, or some other activity? I'm not even going to make up numbers at this point, since I've met exactly TWO people who actually did the highschool-B.Sc.-M.Sc. route with no significant time off - everyone else either took longer than 4 years for their B.Sc. (eg, me) or didn't go immediately into graduate school (eg, me).

I'm not arguing that more funding for graduate school in Ontario is a bad idea - I'm arguing that the *reasoning* behind this decision is obviously completely fucking retarded.

On to the published numbers. The government of Ontario is promising $240 million for the whole province, to increase the number of grad students in all disciplines from 25 000 now to 37 000 next fall and 39 000 by the fall of 2009. $240 million / 14 000 students = $17 143.86 per student across 3 years = $5 714.29 per student per year. Woopdeefuckingdoo. Tuituion this summer at York university (taken as a repressentative example for the province) for a full-time domestic student (ie, non-international) was $1 813.74, or $5 441.22 for the year. If the province used the $240 million pledge just to cover tuition, there would be less than $300 per student per year for each intended additional student.

Where is the money for all of these new students going to come from? Does the government of Ontario think they will entice B.Sc. and B.A. grads away from decent-paying jobs and into the "knowledge economy" with $5 000 of funding, that already-enrolled students will NOT have access to?

So it's up to the Feds, as usual, to cover the difference - in other words, Ottawa will have to pay for pretty much all of these new students. Mr. McGuinty is just posturing for political gain, while the bureaucrats at NSERC and other federal graduate-student-funding agencies remain quiet. Given that I'm considering doing a PhD at Guelph, this bullshit announcement might have some direct impact on me - but, somehow, I doubt that anything will be noticable from ground level.


TheBrummell said...

I also have a rant brewing about how this article was written, aside from it's factual reporting of political assclownery, but this post got long really quickly, so I'll save it.

How, exactly, is "closing the productivity gap" (with the USA) distinct from "closing the skills gap"?

Carlo said...

Ok, I'll give you my two cents on the d-c year, given that I'm currently knee deep in it.

a) The double cohort is extremely noticeable in the larger disciplines. I TAed a double cohort year class last year, and one this year and both had at least 60% larger than previous year class sizes.

b) The four years that Mac has had the d-c going through it are the years that it has 1) made the most profit, 2) invested the most money in non-operating sources and 3) cut the most back on its opperating capital. This has resulted in no increase in TA #'s for d-c classes, meaning more work.

I agree with you that Dalton's an idiot. I was speaking to a prof about this who said that, no matter how much money you throw at sciences, you still have a practical limit on the max # of grad students (salary is NOT the research-limiting factor... RESEARCH IS). It's pretty fucking useless.

But here's another weird thing. Ontario had a tuition increase. Grad tuition went up by 8% for new grads (New as of or after Sept 1st) but only 4% for existing grads. I'm not exactly sure how that makes any sense, but sorry man, if you come to Guelph, you're paying the "new" fee.

Anonymous said...

Queen's didn't really buy into the d-c for undergrads. They like to think it is because they are elite and snooty, but I think they know it is because the school and the city of Kingston would not have been able to handle it.

Besides, Martin, you belong in Switzerland. And everyone knows it.

Larry Moran said...

I replied to this at University Classes Doubled in Size when Grade 13 Was Abolished in Ontario.