Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Silly Education Ideas

Newfoundland government, likely in the latest bright idea to entrench its position for the next election, has come up with the bright idea of making Memorial Univeristy's satellite campus in Corner Brook, Grenfell College, into an independent university.

A recent article CBC comments on how this will have the effect of creating the most expensive (to run) university in campus given the extraordinarily low student population that will be available to defray the core costs associated with running a university. Simon Lono comments on this at Offal News.

On a personal level I think this idea will produce a weak educational institution for a few inter-related reasons. First, the target population is limited (and declining) population on the west coats of Newfoundland. While these are fine people creating a school that depends upon them staying home undermines what is one of the leading educational functions of any univeristy -- getting young students away from home. As a two year college that gives students a foothold in higher education and time to decide between more substantial institutions elsewhere, Grenfell serves a useful purpose. As an end of the road it does not.

Second, what is often missed about univeristy is that much of educational value comes from other students and not the faculty. I know from personal experience that no matter how good the faculty, there is nothing like a group of keen, motivated peers to drive a student to learn. The academic stimulation that comes from competition and conversation cannot be replicated in the lecture hall. The reality is though that such communities of high quality students are generally found either at larger schools with strong faculties or at well established elite schools. Grenfell will be neither.

Establishing Grenfell as a university will present an option to young students which will be misleading. They will see the title 'university' and think that they are being offered a program that is on par with other univeristies when it patently will not be. What they will be offered (except possibly in certain narrow specialty areas such as fine arts) is a community college experience in a college that will face severe economic challenges as well as severe reputational challenges. A wise government would recognize that this idea will do nothing to further the future of Grenfell, Memorial or the students of Newfoundland.

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Anonymous said...

Wow you're dumb. Grenfell grants degrees. I went to grenfell for a year and had no less than 8 PHDs teaching me courses with Masters graduates teaching the other two. Put that in your "community college" and smoke it.


Robert Janes said...

The actual point is that Grebfell does not grant degrees at this time -- Memorial does. As things stand today Grenfell benefits from not having the costs of having a full educational bureaucracy. It also benefits from having the flexibility of not having to offer the full suite of courses that most universities would because it is part of a larger system that students can move around in easily. I know a number of Memorial grads who were able to do a large part of their studies in Corner Brook because it was easy to do a few semesters in St. John's to do things that they were interested in but were not offered at Grenfell. Once Grenfell is on its own that option vanishes -- it then becomes an issue of having to transfer credits; a process which is slow, tedious and impractical because it is often impossible to get into another university just to do a handfull of courses.

Thus my point, separating Grenfell from Memorial actually diminishes what has been built already.

David McCarthy said...

Hi Robert. I'm in almost complete agreement with this post. The value of the university atmosphere, the people you meet and the different perspectives, is as valuable as the lectures. Creating a separate, state funded university is a political decision exclusively. And here is where we will disagree, whenever the government owns/regulates anything, the first priority will always be politics. In this case, politics over the quality & cost of education. So get your proportional representation and we will get more regulation and more policy based strictly on politics.

Hope all is well. Say hello to the family and Andy if you see him.

Robert Janes said...

Actually I agree with your full comment. It is true that when the government owns something that the first priority will be politics. That is why it is so important in my mind for the public to remain engaged in politics as it will be up to them to set a political agenda that rewards putting quality education first.

In that way it is a lot like when the private sector owns something -- there profit will be put first. In that market if the public demand is for quality education then the private sector providers who deliver that will profit. if the demand is for feel good pap, then ....