By Clara Kim

The Leadership Cohort Forum brought together faculty, graduate students, and alumni of our master’s program in Higher Education Leadership on April 6, 2017 at OISE. In the opening address, OISE Dean and Professor Glen Jones described the topics in higher education that ‘keep him up at night,’ and the event ended with a keynote address by Deputy Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development Sheldon Levy on ‘Post-secondary Education and The Changing Nature of Work’. Former and current students presented their research at the forum, and shared experiences from their current higher education leadership roles.

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 12.18.17 PMProfessor Jones discussed three developments in higher education. First he argued there is a need for a more proactive response from universities during this dynamic Age of Knowledge. In a world where people are deluged with contradictory ‘facts’ in an almost instantaneous fashion, students must possess critical thinking skills that enables them to discern fact from fiction, and make informed decisions. Though this discourse is not exclusive to recent global political changes, those are indeed a driving force. The takeaway message is that the skills necessary to navigate today’s world are different and require universities to prepare students accordingly.

Second, Professor Jones candidly addresses his growing concerns over Canada’s unidirectional, profit-driven approach to internationalization. At present, internationalization in Canada means international students pursuing studies in Canada. To reduce internationalization to student recruitment limits opportunities for Canadian students; therefore Professor Jones calls for a Canadian strategy that is more deliberate and holistic in its approach to internationalization.

Last, Professor Jones discusses the challenges of growing strategic capacity in higher education. Higher education must find ways to widen its breadth in new emerging fields of study, manage the increasingly complex role it plays in society, and meet the demands of its stakeholders whilst maintaining its intellectual integrity.

The Forum organized two breakout sessions with presentations from alumni and current graduate students of the Leadership Cohort. These presentations included current trends in higher education surrounding topics relating to quality, access, and resources. Some of the presentations emphasized challenges to access related to location, including studies on Northern Ontario colleges’ collaborative programming initiatives, and partnerships that can reduce the geographical barrier for indigenous students living in Indigenous communities.  Presenters also fostered discussion on ways to increase quality education through changes to the first-year undergraduate curriculum, incorporating work integrated learning in medical schools, and contextualizing the Ontario quality assurance framework.

In the closing address, Deputy Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development Sheldon Levy provided insight not only on the highly-anticipated changes to the funding formula and details on the government’s priority on differentiation, but also candidly expresses his views from a practical standpoint as to what are likely and unlikely deliverables.

Deputy Minister Levy discussed the impending changes to the funding formula, which will dedicate a certain amount of the operating budget allocations specifically in support of the ministry’s institutional differentiation framework. This allocated budget will be outcomes-based and related to each institution’s defined strength. He is skeptical that the change in the funding formula will fully achieve these rather lofty goals, though he recognizes the need for decisive steps to be taken towards changes in the funding formula and more proactive initiatives to push forward the ministry’s agenda for differentiation.

Throughout the Leadership Cohort Forum, difficult questions were brought forth and addressed with a fair bit of, dare I say, frankness. I appreciated being part of intellectually stimulating discussions addressing some of the key issues and challenges facing higher education leaders today.

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