Jeffrey Doucet / The Silhouette

On Tuesday, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak released a policy paper titled “Paths to Prosperity: Higher Learning for Better Jobs.”

The paper lays out a series of recommendations that would dramatically change the post-secondary education landscape in Ontario. There are several points in the paper that will catch the eye of students, professors and university administrators. The paper aims to advance policy that will change the way financial aid and education is delivered across Ontario.

The paper advances an argument that the Ontario government must hold universities and students more accountable, while gearing undergraduate education towards the job market.

Hudak boldly proposes to grant student loans based on academic achievement, calling it a market solution. “Decisions about who should receive loans and how much money is to be awarded should involve assessments of future employability and should reward good academic behaviour,” he says.

This is troubling. It is the role of the university to evaluate students and determine if they merit a university degree.

Giving OSAP the power to evaluate the worth of a student will undermine our universities. If Hudak believes that poor academic performance will lead to worthless degrees, he should push universities to improve undergraduate education.

While any paper on university education will get the attention of student groups, this paper begs for it. Hudak argues that both student unions and university administrations need to be held more accountable when it comes to student fees. Specifically, “students should be allowed to opt-out of paying fees that go toward political advocacy.”

This is a reaction to a small number of student groups across Ontario that have engaged in poor fiscal management and partisan political advocacy. Hudak references the McMaster Association of Part-Time Students (surprise) as well as two other student groups in Ontario. When you consider the number of student unions in Ontario – we have 47 Post-Secondary institutions – it seems absurd for the party to attack all political advocacy efforts by student groups. Advocacy from special interest groups is an important part of the democratic process, and the small number of groups referenced is evidence of a poorly crafted policy.

While some ideas floated in the paper are troubling, others would lead to a stronger undergraduate education.

They argue that universities should embrace teaching-only faculty as a means of improving learning quality and the student experience. This is a welcomed initiative, but will be difficult to implement. If elected, Hudak will be forced to navigate existing faculty agreements that bind faculty positions to research.

Hudak makes a strong push for focusing universities on job creation. The paper suggests funding universities based on levels of immediate employment for graduates. This would reward universities for programs that have high employment rates for their graduates immediately after education. While professional programs will likely welcome the idea and opportunity for enhanced investment, non-professional programs will reap little benefit from this policy. To implement this policy and funding mechanism, a Hudak government will have to define meaningful employment. With our current job market for new grads, good luck.

The Progressive Conservatives are leaning heavily on the assumption that we are in university to get a job.

They are gambling that we will accept less autonomy for our universities if it will increase job numbers. In the coming months it will be interesting to see reaction from student groups, professors, university administrators and other provincial parties. The official opposition has raised important questions that we as undergrads must answer.

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