Should a university’s primary role be to provide education or job training? Those in favour of the latter argue that universities aren’t doing enough to prepare students for the “real world.”
The question sets up a false distinction, though: Canadian universities have been doing both for more than two centuries. And in some cases, concerns about the “relevance” of university education are exaggerated or misguided. Recent studies – from Statistics Canada and from the Council of Ontario Universities – affirm the great value of a university degree in earnings potential and employment rates.
The debate reflects the accelerating pace of change across all industries, an increasingly globalized and competitive economy, and the lingering effects of the global recession. Governments tend to tie the value of public spending – especially on education – to its effect on economic growth and job creation. And students (and their families) are concerned, understandably, about whether their investments in a university education will pay off in a rewarding career.
U of T takes these concerns very seriously, not least because we are accountable for our use of the public funding we receive. In response, we have invested substantial resources in strengthening undergraduate education. The result is a flourishing culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, and curricula designed to ensure graduates have the core competencies that a university education is uniquely suited to impart: the abilities to think critically and creatively, to communicate clearly, to solve complex problems and to collaborate effectively. These competencies, in addition to the knowledge our students gain in their chosen disciplines, will help prepare them for a lifetime of success.
But we recognize that we can do more to help ensure that our students understand how the choices they make here can shape their long-term options. Throughout their time at U of T, and especially as they approach graduation, we want to encourage our students to think strategically about how they can leverage all of their university experiences.
For students enrolled in professional schools, often the path from class to career is clear, and U of T’s professional programs have long excelled at helping students navigate it. That’s less often the case for undergraduate students in the humanities and social sciences. U of T provides unparalleled opportunities for them to develop all the crucial skills I’ve mentioned – and in some ways their career options are much broader. But, paradoxically, the way forward after graduation is often less obvious to them.
Last year, U of T introduced the Co-Curricular Record – an official document that serves to list and verify a student’s co-curricular activities. Designed to complement the traditional academic transcript, it helps explain to employers the skills and knowledge gained from these activities, which we recognize as a crucial part of a university education. It also helps students to see how they can use these activities to their advantage in the job market.
“Step Forward,” a new program planned for the Faculty of Arts and Science, will ask students at all stages of their academic career to reflect actively on what they learn in their courses and co-curricular activities and on how they can apply this knowledge towards their aspirations in life.
Recently, the university overhauled the student information system (what many alumni know as ROSI). Among other things, this will make it easier for students and their advisers to see at a glance what courses have been completed. More to the point, advisers won’t have to spend time tracking down students’ academic records, freeing them to focus on the creative, high-level advice students are asking for in planning their future educational or career paths.
U of T reaffirms the value of a broad liberal arts education at the undergraduate level, and we are working to help our graduates extract the full benefit from that education. The initiatives mentioned here will provide greater support to our students in using their experience at U of T for a lifetime of fulfillment, while contributing to the success and wellbeing of our communities and our society.