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The Digital Dilemma: Finding a Solution to the York University Strike

In the past 15 years…CUPE 3903, representing York University’s Teaching Assistants and Contractual Staff, have gone on strike three times. Last time that occurred (2008-2009), the strike went on for 3 months, causing a major disruption to undergraduate students who were looking to finish studies, complete placements and move into the workforce.

Today, the teaching assistants and contractual staff at York University hit the picket lines yet again. 71% of the 3,700 union members voted against the offer that university made. The bargaining team made the recommendation for its members to reject the offer, which included a 1.5% raise. The union wants 3%.

York President Mamdouh Shoukri said the university is facing “fiscal challenges” but had not sought concessions or a pay freeze, and was disappointed with the strike. Since most of the undergraduate classes are reliant on contractual staff, all classes were cancelled until further notice.

The teaching assistants are unhappy with their wages as explained in a previous paragraph. They are making approximately $45/h, but when you factor in tuition the wages come down to $15. Considering that the minimum wage is $11/h the fact is that many people would do just about anything to switch places with them.

The Reality

The reality is that the value of education is dropping fast for university students throughout North America. Universities are becoming bureaucracies and places of business with a primary focus on research and innovation rather than education.

A post-graduate degree has traditionally been considered the key to a good job. But the rising cost of living and increasing student debt, combined with shrinking financial and educational returns are undermining the perception that university is a good investment.

According to The Economist, 1 in 3 university students today are unable to find fulltime employment within the first two years of graduation. That’s because after graduation many students need to take additional courses to build upon the skills they learned in school. Going into online marketing, I wasn’t taught about how to use social media and the various online marketing-related technologies in the workplace by my marketing professors.

Most of the professors requested traditional essays and prescribed traditional textbooks to read and the content was focused on traditional marketing. Lectures were often done using a blackboard and chalk or PowerPoint. If students wanted to learn about online marketing, which is a trending area at this moment, they had to either learn it on their own or take professional development courses elsewhere.

The Digital Dilemma

To see how efficient higher education can be, we can look at the recently-opened online Western Governors University (WGU). Education there costs less than $6,000 a year, compared with approximately $50,000 per year for tuition at Harvard. Students are permitted to study and take their exams whenever they feel like, not when the sabbaticals, holidays and scheduling of teaching staff permit them. The average time to complete a degree is just two-and-a-half years.

It does not become very difficult to surmise that digital course alternatives are where the world is headed…and for very good reason.


March 3, 2015

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