Do we really need more students in university?

Though Liberals promise more help for students, accessibility may not be the biggest issue for PSE anymore

With Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff announced his “Learning Passport” program, which promises $1 billion for non-repayable aid for post secondary education students, as part of his party’s education platform last week, making education more accessible has now become an election issue.

Yet as the Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente pointed out in her column Thursday, considering Canada has one of the highest post secondary education rates in the world, accessibility may not be a problem anymore. In fact, Canadian universities may even be too accessible.

Wente argued that when tuition fees for most universities are a bargain and “virtually anyone who wants to can get in somewhere,” it lowers how much a university degree is worth. “The vast expansion of higher education hasn’t smartened up people. Instead, it’s dumbed down the standards,” Wente writes.

According to data from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, over half of Canadians age 20-21 had participated in some form of post secondary education in 2009. That number ballooned to over 75 per cent when counting students who withdrew from an Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP).

Ken Coates, dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Waterloo, and Bill Morrison, a former history professor from the University of Northern British Columbia, explored this issue in their book, Campus Confidential, in which they point out that too many students and parents have been falsely convinced that higher education holds all the answers. “They and their parents have bought the mantra: Go to university, get a degree, then get a white-collar career,” Coates told the Globe and Mail.

In their book, Coates and Morrision write that “the widespread perception is that fewer and fewer of them are participating beyond the bare minimum required for a degree.” That can’t be a positive sign for the value of higher education.

In spite of these concerns, student representatives and politicians alike continue to argue that the more students there are in university, and the less money they have to pay to be there, the better off we all will be. However, it seems as though there are often too many people in university who aren’t sure what they want from their degree at all. Further, though students typically spend four years plus working towards graduation, an undergraduate degree no longer carries the promise of a job. In many cases, it doesn’t even qualify you for one.

As a student, it’s easy to be branded as an elitist snob for pointing out that there are some people on campus that may not need to be there. But it’s not good for students or universities if everyone believes they are expected to be able to get a degree, and that doing so will always lead to success.


Do we really need more students in university?

  1. Wente was very simplistic in assuming that the major effect would be MORE students as opposed to LESS DEBT for students who would be there anyway.

    While the Liberal plan would likely have some students go to university who could not afford to without the financial help, it’s larger impact would be to allow students to continue in university with reduced financial burden and debt. Lack of money is a major contributor to drop-out rates for students who are otherwise doing well – so, yes, it would help keep some students in university and bring some in who couldn’t otherwise afford it. But, still, I would think the larger effect would be on students who would be there anyway, but with more financial burden.

  2. As a copy editor, I expected more from Macleans. The spelling errors in this article are laughably obvious.

    • I think you mean Maclean’s.

  3. If you think Canadian universities are too accessible, what do you think about countries like Denmark or Finland that have higher accessibility rates and which rank higher as a knowledge economy than Canada? Any reason Canada should stay behind?

  4. what this article should be about is NO artsy ARTS students should be in university.

    If you are in english, history, anything that ends in “studies”, music, fine arts, journalism, criminology, etc. you should be kicked out. all arts students are lazy, don’t do any work, and complain about classes that start at 10 AM!! and the material is laughable…

    University should be only for science, economics, math, and law. that’s it. those are the only real disciplines. I can’t stand anymore of these arts kids!

    • NERD

    • You’re clearly not recognizing the value and necessity of creativity in the work world. Completely eliminating all avenues in university that harbour creativity is not the answer. Also, there are many different types of intelligence, and just because you lack any music or art abilities does not mean those students who excel in them should not be able to take part in those classes. I also think you are stereotyping arts students by calling them lazy…it’s called making generalizations which do not hold true for ALL arts students. Just as some science, math and law students are not disciplined and studious, but are lazy as well.

      By the way, you just read an article that a student who studied JOURNALISM likely wrote. If you think that this so called “art” shouldn’t be taught in university, why are you bothering to read Maclean’s, and other forms of journalism?? And, yeah, criminology should be outlawed, as it’s not relevant to protecting and controlling society and keeping us from a state of anarchy…. You believe law should be studied…but not criminology?? Perhaps you should think before you write. Maybe if you had taken some English classes you could have improved your rhetoric and persuasive abilities a little more…

      • i agree

  5. duh

  6. Carletonian:
    Some people go on to get PhDs in these subjects, producing works like James McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom” (about the American Civil War), or Tony Judt’s “Postwar” (about post-WWII Europe), to name just a couple arbitrary examples. I assume, being as wise and intellectually gifted as you are, you’ve probably read these and found them to be a piece of cake. Could have researched and written them with your eyes closed, surely.

    So no doubt when you come out with your scholarly opus, it’ll be a great contribution to the nation’s (nay… the world’s!) intellectual life as well. I’m looking forward to it. ;)

  7. I agree. As I’ve said before, not everyone is cut out for university. When I was a grad student, as a TA, I saw far too many people in first year courses who really didn’t belong in university. However, these students went to university because it was the “thing to do” or because their parents pushed them into it. Many of these students would have been better served going to a community college and developing a trade or the like.

    Not every student needs to go to university, and we should stop pushing students into paths that don’t suit them. I personally like the German system, where students are streamed into technical, professional or academic schools fairly early on, in the recognition that not everyone needs to have a university degree. Bright students can move “up” a rung, and poor students can drop down a rung after they are streamed, so they aren’t locked into one particular path their entire lives. But there is certainly a recognition that not everyone needs a university degree and not everyone is cut out for it.

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