The end of the calendar year doesn’t resonate quite so much as a reflective end point for faculty and students, since it falls smack in the middle of the academic year. Nevertheless, another year has nearly passed and a new one begins.
Looking ahead, I suspect one of the constant themes this coming year for postsecondary education in Canada will be one of change. That’s perhaps not an overly bold prediction, but it is notable for an institution – the university – which is so steeped in tradition and wary of change. I think of an address by former University of British Columbia President Martha Piper a couple years ago, where she noted that universities absolutely relish the past:
They’re built on the history of centuries. They pride themselves on not changing. Scholars are taught by scholars who were taught by scholars. Teaching methods and cultural values have been handed down from generation to generation to generation.
But, of course, universities have changed, most notably in terms of the massification of higher education – a term I’d barely heard of a few years ago, but now is in common usage. From an elite institution meant to prepare a small subset of society, it has become a mass phenomenon ostensibly open to all who have the desire and the ability. This, obviously, has enormous implications for universities in terms of resources and approaches to learning. They simply cannot continue to do things as they have in the past and be able to respond to the needs and desires of such a wide and diverse clientele.
Universities are responding, of course, in many different ways. But I think the rollercoaster ride of change has barely begun. Happy New Year.