King of the Robots: Double Cohort and the Two Towers

It’s spring. Most of you have probably seen the new Lord of the Rings movie by now, and if you haven’t, then just bear with me. You know that part where all the Orcs are about to storm the castle and all the humans are standing atop the walls, frightened because they’re about to be eaten? Okay, let’s replace that castle with a university that can fit on one square block, those humans with a load of students, staff, administrators and professors, and the orcs with a bunch of newly-graduated kids with post-1984 driver’s licenses. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I’d much rather defend against orcs.

Next year will be the year of the double cohort all around Ontario. A few years back Ontario’s provincial government decided to eliminate grade 13 (aka OAC) in order to make high school a four-year affair instead of the five years that past high school students experienced. While this made fiscal sense, and would move Ontario students’ high school careers to the same length as those students in other provinces, it caused a set of problems that got a lot of people worrying.

First, the universities started sweating: How would Ontario (and Canada’s) colleges and universities accommodate two grades worth of graduates in the fall of 2003? As it was, Canadian universities felt they were woefully under-funded, and to take on an estimated 33,500 extra students seemed like a mission impossible. Second, parents started to sweat. Besides the prospect of having to deal with some punk kid for another year after she or he had made the important adolescent discoveries of defiance and smartassology, parents wanted to know if their children would be able to attend university at all, learning important skills and the ability to carve out a life for themselves. And finally, and probably most importantly of all, were the students, and boy did they sweat. Not only was the glorious slacker-year of OAC eliminated in some of their cases (and replaced with mandatory volunteer work), but man oh man, it was going to be the mother of all buzz-kills to have to compete with another grade for those already competitive university spots.

The universities started to prepare, begging for governmental help. The parents started to find a place, any place, to send their kids. The kids, well they either graduated early or they started to study really, really hard because there was no way they were staying home another year.

You are just a poor peasant, working the fields for a living; you’re not ready for this stuff. “What the hell is that? A huge army you say? Of orcs you say? Big teeth, eh? Hmm…That doesn’t sound too good.” Great. Is anyone going to help you? What’s that smell? Just hide in the on campus club and hope that those things don’t trample you and eat your family.

If you think that universities are over-populated now, get ready for a scene next year, because there will be a whole load of new people. As many as 11,400 eligible high school graduates could be watching from the outside because of underestimates made about the size of the double cohort class.

The crisis in post-secondary education won’t end when the double cohort joins us next year. Over the next ten years, it is feared that there will be a 40% increase in demand for seats in Ontario university classes and this leads to the inevitable issue of who is going to be teaching those classes. Ontario’s student/faculty ratio is the highest in Canada (19.6/1) and with a glut of retirements in both universities and colleges expected to happen around and after the double cohort, it’s still unclear what will be done to ensure that a post-secondary education is possible for these would-be students.

This is getting dire. Help please.

Yeah, so the elf and the dwarf look at all those drooling, slimy dwarves, and because they are simple oppressed cave and forest dwellers, they look to the mighty human for leadership. He’s sort of dirty, a little unkempt, not even wearing a crown, but hell, it can’t get much worse than being eaten by an orc.

Universities have all gotten Superbuilt. Ontario’s valiant government stepped in with their mighty Excalibur made of cold hard cash, slapped it down on some universities’ front doorsteps and said “Get ready.” The Superbuild Fund, a capital investment fund set up by the provincial government, has invested nearly $2.2 billion in post-secondary education in Ontario since 1999 and has created more than 79,000 new student spaces. The government has also done their best to calm the public’s nerves too. Dianne Cunningham, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities has said that “…we’re going beyond the plan and we [will] take every qualified student.” At Laurier, Superbuild has been responsible for $6.3 million in investment and along with another $10.63 million in other funding that has led to the creation of 900 new student spaces and has funded such projects as the library renovation.

Laurier plans to take in 3,000 new students next year, up from 2,410 this year, and with the creation of new residences, buildings and renovations, on paper we look to be able to handle the onslaught that begins in September. Other issues like study space, green space, and class sizes will be issues that will have to be dealt with as they arise, if they’re even issues that can be dealt with anytime soon. As it is, Laurier receives among the lowest per-capita funding per student in Ontario, so until the money is made available, it seems that our brave WLU souls will have to make do.

So we’ve managed to put up a good fight. The orcs got into the castle, but some intangible powers gifted to us from unknown sources have allowed us to resist until almost the last fighter. But it seems that it is all lost now. The orcs smell fear, and they smell the sweet meat hanging off our weary bones. But what is that? Is that sound the sound of hope on the horizon, coming with the new-day sun? You scramble up to the turret to look, but it’s just a bunch of robots dancing to Tears for Fears in a very post-ironic fashion. Oh well, might as well buy one of them a drink.