Home Commentary It’s a sign of the times: how Canadian universities struggle to adapt to changing times

It’s a sign of the times: how Canadian universities struggle to adapt to changing times

by Elyette Levy March 16, 2021
It’s a sign of the times: how Canadian universities struggle to adapt to changing times

Universities aren’t keeping up with evolving technologies and calls for diversity

Following my graduation from high school, I was very vocal about how the education I received was too workplace-driven, with a small proportion of material geared towards self-improvement and general culture. I felt that the growing societal awareness of our lack of diversity had fallen on my school administration’s deaf ears.

But in the few months preceding my graduation from Concordia, I’m noticing quite the opposite effect. I find that a divide has been growing between the university’s disconnected attempts at promoting diversity and better inclusion, and its ability to properly prepare us for post-graduation life in a rapidly evolving world.

A friend of mine who studies Design at Concordia recently told me about her frustration with the disconnect between the program’s advocacy for a more diverse design industry and its lack of professors of colour. In many of her classes, she also felt the expectations for her work weren’t on par with the demands of the design market, and that it would be difficult to compete in the arts scene with the portfolio she was building through class assignments.

It seems to be a pattern, from hearing other people’s experiences in the arts programs at this school, that the training it provides focuses on a dissociated idea of the knowledge we will need once we enter the job market.

In my three years studying Journalism, some of the most important topics — how to find work as a freelancer, or writing an invoice, for example — have been presented to us under the form of optional extracurricular talks to leave space for mandatory courses about the basics of photography and writing local crime stories. Furthermore, despite being promised a course on Indigenous reporting since our first semester in Journalism, it still hasn’t been offered three years later.

Throughout the past year, many of my peers have anecdotally told me about their struggles with keeping up with the department’s expectations because we’ve never learned to produce quality content without using expensive softwares and equipment or $2,000 iMacs. In fact, using an iPhone camera was grounds for docking marks in pretty much every photography class we had to take; our professors preferring we borrowed the 2008 DSLRs provided by the school.

Don’t get me wrong, I cherish a lot of the information I took away from my time in both programs I’m enrolled in. But the truth is, Concordia, just like many other Canadian universities, falls short when it comes to adapting fast enough to rapidly changing times.

In 2015, McGill’s School of Medicine was put on probation for, in part, failing to provide their students with proper instruction on women’s health and domestic violence issues. This was despite the fact that there were calls to bring the curriculum up to date with the status of social issues in Canada for years prior to the decision. Yet, even after the faculty went off probation in 2017, many reported an ongoing lack of diversity within the program.

Last semester, Concordia Film Production students wrote a statement demanding their department to address the lack of diversity, and to be held accountable for their responsibility to raise the voices of underrepresented groups.

And just this week, the students at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism issued a public letter calling out its failure to “represent and support its students who identify as Black, Indigenous, people of colour (BIPOC) and LGBTQ2IA+,” a letter which led to the resignations of the chair and associate chair of the program, Janice Neil and Lisa Taylor.

It’s not a coincidence, it’s a pattern. Canadian universities aren’t equipped to adapt their teaching to the needs of the modern world, just like they aren’t prepared to make the structural changes required by society’s increased sensibility to diversity and social issues.

It’s unbecoming of our schools, which we so often brag about being among the best in the country, to forget about currency and adaptability as part of their commitment to high quality education. Being unable to compete in a technology-reliant, socially aware society isn’t what we thought we were paying tuition for.

 

Graphic by @the.beta.lab

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