What exactly is the “Best Student Experience” we’ve all heard so much about since we first set foot on Western’s campus?
Perhaps there’s no need to bother with the question, since the university’s administration has defined it for us in a document titled “Institutional Vision, Proposed Mandate Statement and Priority Objectives” – a paper that formally kicked off the process of creating a Strategic Mandate Agreement for the future. Moreover, Western administration took it upon itself to do this with very little student input. The little input they sought amounted to a few meetings with the USC president and vice-president (whose recommendations didn’t come from direct Western student involvement but rather the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance’s discussion paper), and limited interaction with higher-ups in Western’s Senate and Board of Governors. A group of us, Western students all, have decided this doesn’t sit well with us and so we’re doing something about it.
Ask yourself: where were you in the development of Western’s vision and “Best Student Experience”? Because how the administration has chosen to define it is troubling, to say the least. To them, our best experience boils down to valuing money over learning.
Western’s paper outlines the “Best Student Experience” as its primary draw for students, as well as what the university should be known for in the future. It’s a phrase that sounds nice, but here are some of the unsettling realities lying behind the so-called “Best Student Experience” of tomorrow:
What They Say: Providing a learning environment that fosters creativity through exploration, discovery, invention and innovation
What They Mean: Greater collaboration between the university and its industrial and business partners, including its “commercialization agency” WORLDiscoveries and LANXESS Inc., in order to bring economic prosperity to Southwestern Ontario.
What They Say: Innovation in curriculum development
What They Mean: Increase the number of online courses by using so-called “innovative delivery mechanisms” (a business-y buzzword for “Internet”). Already, online courses account for 10% of all instruction.
What They Say: The Best Student Experience is reflected in our resource allocations
What They Mean: Western is a lean, mean, economically efficient machine. Its “operating efficiency” has increased dramatically over the past few decades because our expenditures are way down.
How It Will Affect Enrollment: Large growth in undergraduate programs (as much as 800 new students) is projected, as well as enrollment growth in Master’s and Doctoral programs.
These are just a few examples of the paper’s troubling focus on economic efficiency over real student benefit. Is it our “Best Experience” the university is focusing on, or putting more students in seats to collect tuition cheques while palling around with corporate sponsors? This is a disturbing trend for Western, and one that has been undertaken without direct student involvement. Shouldn’t we have had a say in our own so-called best experience?
We don’t see our student experience here as being defined by “commercialization agencies,” more students for the sake of more students, online courses, and cost/profit analyses. We’re after a definition that focuses on student learning, processes of intellectual discovery, exploration–in short: the human, not economic, aspects of the university experience.
It’s not too late. This is just the beginning of a long process to garner student input for the Strategic Mandate Agreement. It’s time to have our voices–your voice–heard, on what your idea of the “Best Student Experience” is. Follow us on Twitter, tweet with your thoughts using #YourStudentExp, and like us on Facebook to join the conversation and get updates about what comes next.
This time, the best student experience is our student experience.