Quality over quantity

UW professors are countering recent Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario reports which state that Ontario professors should be teaching more courses in order to increase the education system’s productivity.

Professors in the philosophy, economics, and chemistry departments at 10 universities across Ontario were surveyed in order to determine each professor’s average course load as well as the amount of time spent researching. Only results from the chemistry and economics departments were released.

The HEQCO report affirmed that the standard load for professors in Ontario is three courses per year, with 20 per cent of professors not involved in any research or scholarly writing.

According to UW German studies professor James Skidmore, the average course load in most departments in the faculty of arts is about four courses, while some departments have a standard load even higher than that.

The HEQCO report claims that doubling the course load of professors not active in research would be “equivalent to adding about 1,500 faculty members across the province.” The belief is that this would also reduce the need for more professors and in turn save Queen’s Park around $4,500 per student.

“There are quite a few problems with the report. When it counts up what it considers research, it has a very narrow scope,” said Kate Lawson, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations and an associate professor of English at UW. “Lots of ways in which professors do research were not counted in the HECQO report.”

“You can’t quantify the work one does as a researcher in such a simplistic manner,” said Skidmore. “What’s more important is to evaluate the quality of research coming out of universities, as opposed to the quantity.”

The concern for students is that Ontario already has the highest student-faculty ratio in all of Canada. Today, there are 28 students for each professor, a significant increase from the 22-to-one ratio in 2000.  What’s more is that since 2000, enrolment for undergraduate students has grown by 64 per cent, while the full-time faculty has grown only by 30 per cent.

“If you want a good university education, you want a [professor] to really know the material he or she is teaching. You want them to be really up to date on the topic, on the research that’s going on surrounding that topic. If you say ‘Well, we’ll just double their teaching because they’re not doing anything else,’ you’ll never get that kind of new knowledge into the classroom, and so your university education will start to become stale,” Skidmore said.

Professors are concerned that they are not being provided with enough time to do exceptional, substantial teaching. They argue that in order to teach well, hours of preparation are required for the few minutes they might be in a class.

“One of the most important aspects of teaching is giving feedback to students … good quality feedback takes time, and that’s where students really learn,” Skidmore said, expressing his belief that the quality of feedback would suffer tremendously should professors be given a heavier teaching load.

“Students are already getting short-changed under the current system. We need all the professors we have and more,” Lawson said.


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