Chapter 3 – What we heard from students and system stakeholders

Table of Contents


This chapter presents a summary of our consultation findings from consultations held with students and system stakeholders. SRDC held consultations between July and October 2014 to obtain input and information from a wide range of key postsecondary education stakeholders including institutions, quality assurance agencies, students, and faculty. Section I of this Chapter summarizes what we heard.

In Section II, we summarize recent proposals for new credentials in Ontario, based on postsecondary institutions' submissions into the Strategic Mandate Agreement process from 2013. Together, these sections present a broad picture of how Ontario institutions are responding to opportunities and challenges in ensuring graduates are making successful labour market transitions.

Section I – What we heard

Topics covered in the consultations varied slightly according to the stakeholders participating. Consultations with institutions, quality assurance agencies, students, and faculty focused on the following topics:

  • Whether Ontario's current credential mix provides students with the skills and experience needed to be successful in the labour market, and whether there are gaps in the current mix of credential offerings that need to be addressed to improve labour market opportunities for graduates
  • Identification of other types of credentials that could benefit student labour market outcomes and respond to the needs of employers. Identification of supporting evidence for the potential of these credentials
  • Whether students would benefit from more collaborative credential offerings, formed through institutional partnerships, to improve labour market readiness
  • The global trends in credential offerings that address the possible imbalance between the skills of graduates and the needs of employers and whether Ontario should consider any of these options
  • Whether there is sufficient laddering between existing credentials
  • Quality assurance and any implications for potential new credentials

Topics covered in consultations with employers included the following topics:

  • Credentials, skills and the hiring and promotion process
  • Skills and competencies of recent graduates
  • Gaps and opportunities related to the design and delivery of Ontario's postsecondary credentials
  • Challenges and opportunities related to employers' role in education and training

Stakeholders were identified and first contacted by the Ministry through formal letters from the Assistant Deputy Minister. This was followed shortly thereafter with a formal invitation sent by SRDC via email to all stakeholder organizations inviting them to an in-person consultation session, as well as to individual colleges and universities inviting them to make written submissions. Organizations that did not attend in-person consultations were encouraged to provide written responses to the discussion questions developed for the in-person sessions. Table 16 lists the organizations that participated in consultations and indicates their form of participation.

For colleges and Colleges Ontario (CO) and for universities and the Council of Ontario Universities (COU), SRDC adopted a two-phased approach to consultation whereby each organization was invited to a follow-up meeting several weeks after a first meeting. The aim of the follow-up meeting was to clarify points made in the initial consultation, respond to themes or issues identified by other stakeholder groups and to address any of SRDC's remaining knowledge gaps.

Table 16: Consultation participants and form of participation
Organization name Form of participation
Canadian Federation of Students Ontario (CFS-O) In-person meeting
College Student Alliance (CSA) In-person meeting
Colleges Ontario (CO) 1 meeting with President and senior staff

2 in-person consultation sessions with written responses

Council of Ontario Universities (COU) 1 meeting with President and Senior staff

2 in-person consultation sessions and one written response

Ontario College Quality Assurance Service (OCQAS) In-person meeting and follow-up telephone consultation
Ontario Confederation of University Faculty (OCUFA) Written submission
Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer (ONCAT) Written submission
Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) In-person meeting and written submission
Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) In-person meeting
Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance (Universities Quality Council) In-person meeting
Postsecondary Education Quality Assessment Board (PEQAB) In-person meeting
Regroupement étudiant franco-ontarien (RÉFO) In-person meeting
Vice-Presidents Academic of all publicly funded Ontario colleges Written submissions received from Algonquin, Humber, La Cité
Provosts of all publicly funded Ontario universities Written submissions received from Carleton, Queen's
General Motors Written submission
IBM Written submission
Centre of Excellence in Financial Services Education In-person meeting
Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) In-person meeting

What we heard from institutions, quality assurance agencies, students, and faculty

Does Ontario have the appropriate mix of labour market focused credentials?

There was mixed sentiment related to existence and severity of gaps in the credential mix and in the postsecondary system as whole.

Some stakeholders, specifically the Council of Ontario Universities, emphasized how well the system is working, and that postsecondary education is already providing the skills that graduates and employers need. They expressed that the existing credential mix is sufficiently flexible to meet needs of students and employers, and that education has been adapting to these needs:

“Universities are able to, and have a solid record of, innovations which help support labour market outcomes, including different program delivery methods and collaborations between and among institutions… The labour market outcomes of graduates from Ontario postsecondary institutions are excellent, and have remained consistently excellent over many years… Ontario universities have shown ongoing adaptation to ensure the labour market relevance of programs.” – COU response to SRDC on September 4, 2014

Other stakeholders identified major gaps. For example, one university institution emphasized the critical importance of system-wide transformation and bottom-up innovation. Colleges Ontario also identified significant gaps such as a lack of efficient educational pathways for applied programs and the need to accelerate transitions between credentials and from school to work.

Other gaps were identified in more specific areas including:

  • Lack of authority among colleges to offer three-year degrees (which CO argues has negative implications for student equity and labour market outcomes)
  • Gap in degree-level applied education (which CO argues is due to regulatory factors inhibiting colleges from expanding degree-level programming in applied areas of study
  • Lack of formal recognition on the OQF of university graduate diplomas (which some student groups argued may compromise consistency in programming and quality across institutions)
  • Students identified a need for more work-integrated learning opportunities in both applied and academic programs
  • A need to better support students in articulating their skills and knowledge to employers (all stakeholders)

Specific gaps identified by stakeholders

Specific gaps identified can be organized according to the following six themes:

  • Structure, content and authority of the Ontario Credentials Framework (OQF)
  • Proposal from Colleges Ontario to extend mandate to offer three-year degrees to Ontario colleges
  • Collaborative programming across and among sectors and institutions and student access to laddered credentials
  • Quality assurance
  • Workforce-oriented skills
  • Work-integrated learning

The Ontario Qualifications Framework

The OQF is not viewed by the college and university sectors as a guide for program approval and funding decisions

Universities, college and university quality assurance agencies, and university faculty reported that the Ontario Qualifications Framework (OQF) is not considered to be the guiding document for program development and government funding by either the college or university sector. Colleges follow the OQF and the college Framework for Programs of Instruction, but adhere to learning outcomes and credential nomenclature identified in the college Framework when there are differences between it and the OQF. Universities follow the statements of learning outcomes in the Quality Assurance Guide developed by the Universities Quality Council (currently, the descriptions of the learning outcomes on the Guide are the same as those on the OQF).

Need for clarification on intended audience and outcomes of graduate certificates and diplomas

Students and colleges expressed desire for clarification on the intended audience and expected learning outcomes of the post-diploma certificate, as it is reported that some programs are targeted to diploma graduates and others to degree graduates. A key question is whether there should be a post-diploma and a post-baccalaureate certificate on the OQF.

Students also suggested a need for clarification on intended audience and learning outcomes of the various university post-degree certificate/diploma programs being offered at universities. Students noted that the OQF does not include these credentials and expressed concern that their absence may be resulting in lack of consistency among the programs offered at different institutions under the same credential.

Some student representatives speculated whether the current post-diploma certificate on the OQF could be modified to include post-baccalaureate certificates. Others felt the need to distinguish between credentials offered by colleges and those offered by universities. Universities perceive these diplomas to be different from college post-diploma certificates, as they are intended to be at both the post-baccalaureate and the post-master's level, with potential for a post-doctorate credential as well.

Mixed views on whether workforce-oriented degrees should be distinguished from academically oriented degrees

Some students suggested that there should be more specific learning outcomes and credential terminology for workplace oriented undergraduate and graduate degrees on the OQF. Specific reference was made to the possibility of “professional masters” degrees that would be distinguished by their application of learning to specific occupational or professional areas.

Other stakeholders noted that the current language of the OQF accommodated this distinction already, and preferred that the language on the OQF remain more general. It was suggested that these differences could be addressed within the learning outcomes at the program level.

Colleges suggested consideration be given to distinguishing between “polytechnic” and traditional degrees at the bachelor's and master's level as is done in the national qualifications framework of Finland.

Employers and students are perceived to have a weak understanding of the OQF and the differences between credentials

There is a common perception that employers and students have a weak understanding of the OQF, including the learning outcomes associated with credentials. There is some consensus that external regulatory/accrediting bodies often define required credentials for accreditation/entry to practice, but it is not clear if these decisions are tied to an understanding of credential learning outcomes or based on general expectations of credentials.

Colleges and the Ontario College Quality Assurance Service perceive that employers have a better understanding of program level outcomes of specific college programs because of the existence of program-level learning outcomes.

One student stakeholder group suggested that employers might perceive differences in Ordinary and Honours degrees because of the length of the program, but that they have little additional understanding of the differences between them. They also perceive that students are still more influenced by who offers the credential than what the credential is.

One student stakeholder group reported a need to develop greater public awareness of the range of credentials and their meaning in terms of student outcomes. Other stakeholders suggested that OQF should provide greater clarity for students on how credentials relate to and build upon one another.

Proposal for three-year labour market focused degrees delivered by colleges

Mixed views on whether colleges should be authorized to deliver three-year degrees

Some stakeholders suggested that colleges and universities should both be able to deliver any credential on the current OQF as long as the programs meet the credential-level outcomes. It was also noted that since colleges are authorized to offer four-year degrees, it seems illogical to think they are not equally competent to offer three-year degrees.

Colleges expressed that their proposal to convert advanced diplomas into three year applied degrees (outlined in more detail in Section II) would increase access to degrees for under-represented groups and would address current inequity among advanced diploma graduates who they perceive to be meeting degree-level standards in Ontario and in other jurisdictions, but cannot receive the degree credential.

Other stakeholders expressed concern about the impact that the change could have on the value of a degree, which could undermine the aim of equity, suggesting that it would be necessary to find ways to protect against perceived tiering of degrees.

College faculty expressed concern about the potential diversion of resources away from other important programs and services if colleges expanded degree programs.

College students expressed neutrality regarding increased degree programs at colleges, but stressed that colleges should maintain their access mandate and workforce orientation of program, continue their focus on work-integrated learning and continue to protect institutional resources and the quality of all programs. They also expressed interest in obtaining information on how increased degree programs would impact college resources and student tuition.

Universities voiced concern that expanding degrees in colleges would drive the postsecondary system toward greater homogeneity at a time when government is focusing on differentiation. They were also concerned that colleges might be less interested in collaborative programs and transfer pathways if they were authorized to grant more degrees.

In general, stakeholders outside of the college sector appeared to lack understanding of the Colleges Ontario proposal (e.g., that it would involve converting only advanced diploma programs that are demonstrated to meet degree standards and would require an assessment of individual institutional capacity to deliver degree programming). They articulated a need for more detailed information including information on how many programs and colleges would be involved, how credential-level standards for learning outcomes would be set, and how institutional capacity to deliver the degrees would be assessed.

Collaborative programs and credential laddering

Support for collaborative programs in principle

There was support for collaborative programs (i.e., programs offered jointly by colleges and universities) from most stakeholders. However, there was some disagreement between the college and university sectors about the success of existing programs, particularly with regard to decision-making and operations of programs. The question of whether non-direct entrants could qualify for admission to these programs was also raised. Colleges also expressed the view that college contributions to collaborative programs are undervalued.

Laddering opportunities between credentials should be clearer and should continue to expand

We heard from colleges and students that the OQF does not clearly identify relationships among credentials, particularly with regard to how credit for learning in one credential can be transferred to another.

Student stakeholders in particular noted that, although student mobility had improved significantly in recent years, there were still issues with regard to access to degrees for college diploma graduates and for access to graduate programs by college degree graduates.

Colleges identified a number of barriers to degree completion programs such as institutions that require secondary school U and M courses for admission rather than considering students' college record, and graduation policies that require students to take additional courses at the receiving institution in order to meet residency requirements.

Quality assurance

Acknowledgment that quality assurance practices should be consistent across the PSE system, but no desire for a single quality assurance body in Ontario

Some stakeholders expressed a need for quality assurance practices to be consistent across the postsecondary system. However, although common in other jurisdictions, there was only minimal stakeholder support for a single quality assurance agency that would have authority over all postsecondary credentials. Moreover, none of the three quality assurance agencies we consulted suggested that it would or could take on responsibility for quality assurance of all postsecondary credentials in Ontario at this time.

Colleges prefer to have their degrees approved and reviewed by the Ontario College Quality Assurance Service

Colleges would like the responsibility for approval of new and modified degree programs in colleges and for assessing the capacity of institutions to deliver degrees to be transferred from PEQAB to the Ontario College Quality Assurance Service (OCQAS).

Colleges perceive that there are a number of issues associated with the PEQAB processes that work against college degree proposals, and that the program approval process is extremely slow.

Colleges also noted that the system has ten years of experience in developing and delivering degree programs and has the knowledge and experience to assume responsibility for program approvals and the assessment of institutional capacity to deliver.

The role of workforce-oriented skills in postsecondary education

Postsecondary programs perceived to be developing appropriate mix of transferable skills and technical skills

Colleges and universities both perceive that their programs are delivering the appropriate level and mix of transferable thinking skills and technical skills as required for programs' fields of study.

Universities and university faculty expressed that Bachelor's degrees should not be oriented to specific workplace needs, as these are fluid and cannot be reliably predicted, but rather should teach the requisite skills to be able to succeed in a variety of workplaces. They also perceive that transferable skills critical to success in employment are appropriately developed through degree programs.

Colleges stressed their commitment to delivering applied programs oriented to specific occupational areas and their history of involving employers in program development and review. College faculty agree that programs should provide workforce-oriented education, but should also emphasize soft skills development and general education.

Some perception that employers have unreasonable expectations of graduates' workplace-specific skills, but broad consensus that PSE institutions can do more to cultivate skills for the labour market in students' field of study

There was a common perception among universities, college and university faculty, and some student groups that employers have abandoned in-house employee training and that there has been a shift in responsibility from employers to institutions.

However, there is some disagreement on the unreasonableness of this shift based on how “workplace skills” are interpreted. Some stakeholders define these skills as highly specific to a particular workplace and thus it is unreasonable to expect recent graduates to possess them. Others consider “workplace skills” to be transferable skills that can be applied across workplaces in a field of study, and thus employers have legitimate expectations around such skills.

Despite how “workplace skills” are defined, there is broad recognition among stakeholders that institutions could do more to develop transferable workforce oriented skills and attitudes in their graduates and to develop graduates' abilities to articulate how their education has prepared them for the workplace.

Work-integrated learning

Strong support for incorporating more work-integrated learning into all types of postsecondary programs, but opportunities must be high quality and implementation challenges need to be addressed

There was strong support across stakeholders, particularly student groups, for incorporating more work-integrated learning (WIL) into both workforce-oriented programs and more academic programs, including Master's programs, to develop work orientation and awareness and to connect students to marketplace. WIL is also seen as a way to address employers' desire for applicants to have work experience prior to offering employment, a common perception among stakeholders we consulted.

Some student stakeholders emphasized the importance of building strategies to protect students from exploitation, and expressed concerns about the quality of work placements and lack of clarity around who has responsibility for supervision of students while on work placement.

There was some concern, from universities in particular, with regard to the cost of establishing an infrastructure to support expanded work-integrated learning opportunities and the cost of staff to find placements, liaise with employers and provide guidance and supervision to students. Concern was also expressed regarding new regulations that can inhibit work placement opportunities for students. Students expressed a concern that extended work-integrated learning opportunities might come at the expense of other needed student services.