Few students and faculty attended the town hall last Tuesday, held by the university to seek feedback from stakeholders and assess the progress of the Towards 2030 plan for academic excellence.
Cheryl Misak, UTM’s vice-president and provost, held town halls on all three campuses to facilitate discussion about the new challenges and opportunities that have arisen since the document’s development in 2007.
The UTM Students’ Union and students were the most vocal during the hour and a half allocated to questions, which focussed mainly on financial matters, including lobby efforts for increased government funding.
“It’s troubling that the U of T administration felt the true course was to assess higher tuition fees instead of influencing the policy-makers of the provincial and federal governments to give more funding,” said Munib Sajjad, UTMSU’s VP External.
Misak explained that the university constantly pushes for greater support from the province, but funding for research is fundamental in expanding upon the university’s prestigious international reputation and providing quality education.
“We can’t advocate with the province for a tuition freeze because we would have to make cuts that are deep and harmful for students and the university as a whole,” Misak said.
According to the Towards 2030 reports, the university intends to increase the radio of graduate to undergraduate enrolment, thereby directing greater funding to research initiatives.
Ontario offers the lowest per-student funding in Canada, so the university has to find alternative methods to generate revenue, such as private institutions and increased user fees through tuition. Danielle Sandu, president of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, stated that student tuition contributes to 40% of the operating budget.
“We’ll continue to advocate for increased per-student funding from the provincial government and will be happy to join forces with our students on that lobbying effort,” Misak said. “But realistically, universities also need tuition fees in order to deliver the excellent education our students deserve.”
UTMSU also inquired about governance reform, one of the developments of Towards 2030. Sajjad insisted that governance bodies at U of T, such as the Governing Council and the Erindale College Council, should include greater student representation.
The number of student seats at Governing Council, the highest decision-making body at U of T, depends on the board or committee. The Academic Board includes 14 student positions out of 58 total seats. The Business Board includes two student positions. The Erindale College Council, the highest decision-making body at the Mississauga campus, allocates 75 seats to undergraduate students alone.
“The issue of U of T governance reform was brushed to the side,” Sajjad said. “After the meeting, the provost was asked about more student representation at Governing Council, its affiliated boards and subcommittees, and Erindale College Council, but she acknowledged the question and said nothing could be done, as there was enough student representation.”
The Towards 2030 report, written by U of T’s president, David Naylor, outlined five key themes for improvement: long-term enrolment strategies, institutional organization, university resources, university governance, and university relations. Five separate task forces were stricken, comprising university governors, senior administrators, and representatives from alumni, faculty, staff, and student constituencies.
After a series of research, consultation, and feedback, each task force put together a report, outlining the university’s long-term plan to achieve higher standards of education, research, and staff and student experience over the next two decades.
In particular, the document stressed the importance of research for the university’s reputation and the opportunities for the satellite campuses to assume greater autonomy as opposed to centralized governance.
Misak invited attendees to direct their questions and feedback to the Towards 2030 website.