The Opinions. Section 7: In the name of the Polytechnic University.
Over the past few days, I was given a suggestion by a professor over a topic that I’ve been going on about for the past few semesters. This topic is: “What should a Polytechnic University”, look like. Therefore this week’s Opinions article will focus on what I think a Polytechnic University should look like, offer in terms of programs, and how they should differ from regular Universities who’s main goal is to provide Graduates and researchers (at least that is how I see it). Let us begin shall we.
So the University I attend was recently granted its’ University status over four years ago. In this short time, only a few programs (aside from the ones that existed already) came out as a result of its’ polytechnic title. Since then there have been rumors as to whether or not the title of polytechnic should be dropped from the name. Let me say that firstly, this institution was granted its’ charter because it was going to receive the mandate of being a polytechnic university. It was charged with providing technical education to students which upon graduation they would be able to immediately enter the field and start working. They never produced ground-breaking research, and even then this is not their mandate. Their soul priority is to provide technical education (trades to bachelor of arts in technology), and while they are permitted to have a small section available for liberal arts and sciences, this is not their primary task. It is in a sense “heresy” to think that they could drop the polytechnic term from their university name after it was clearly stated that they were granted their charter because they were to receive this status and provide the services associated with the status. Some effort has been made to improve upon the name (despite the rumors of a possible attempt to drop the polytechnic title), of which has culminated into the following programs: Bachelor of Technology: Information Technology, Bachelor of Applied Science in Sustainable Agriculture, Bachelor of Interior Design, and the Public Safety Communications Certificate. Now these are the newest programs added to the list of studies available to students wishing to pursue such programs. However this list is still limited, and while trades education is also available, the university is not living up to its’ name entirely.
What programs should be offered, one might ask? Are you suggesting that we demolish the current list of programs and start from scratch? The answer to the last one is immediately no. It is ‘no’, because while the university is a polytechnic, the name does not forbid them from offering programs within the liberal arts category. On the contrary, diversity is key with a polytechnic (though there should be a core focus at the university). Now back to the question of “what programs” will be offered in this, polytechnic university.
According to the definition, a polytechnic university is a university that has a somewhat of a focus on vocational education, engineering, and technology. While the university status enables them to offer programs in the liberal arts section such as criminology, sociology, and psychology, the core focus should be on technology and vocational education. Now before I go on, I had forgotten up to this point about the faculty of business. Long story short, they need to be there as well. In a sense it is a type of vocational education that prepares students for life within the world of finance, plain and simple. Now back to the main course.
We already have trades and some technology programs offered at the university. Yet the engineering program seems to be lacking as there is only a certificate of engineering offered at the institution, and that in order to reach its’ full potential a full engineering degree must exist at the institution. The types of engineering programs that should be offered would be the following: Mechanical, and civil engineering. These two programs are perhaps the prime element in which a polytechnic should focus on in regards to training. Infrastructure is all around us, and if the polytechnic university can produce graduates capable of working in infrastructure development and maintenance, then the institution will have fulfilled its’ duty hands down. This alongside technology education (especially information technology and nursing), alongside vocational education can make the polytechnic university an attractive place to be (especially if it is within a city where there is a high concentration of students and prospective students). Thus far this article has gone on to discuss the various bachelor degree programs that should be offered at a polytechnic. However, little attention has been given to diplomas and certificates in their respective programs and subjects. Some attention will now be diverted to address this topic.
It is important for a polytechnic university to also have available one to two year programmes available for students who do not wish to pursue a degree. I once read on a plaque at the entrance of my university: “this institution has been granted university status on the basis that it provide education to those who would otherwise not have the opportunity to study past the secondary school level”. While this small quote is not word for word, it is an important statement. In a country like Canada, the economy is slowly shifting to a knowledge-based economy. While industry is still a primary employer and will not disappear, its’ numbers are now less than 30% (approximately). Thus the task is present before us; train the next generation and prepare them for this knowledge-based economy that is about to emerge as a major employer of over 50% of the workforce. This is all speculation by the way and does not, in any way. Shape or form, reflect actual data produced by recognized think tanks and government agencies.
Yet my point remains, the polytechnic exists to produce undergraduates who can (and most likely will) enter the workforce shortly after graduation, with an opportunity to pursue graduate studies if they so desire. To this end, more emphasis should be placed on developing attractive and dare I say “useful” undergraduate degrees, diplomas and certificates that prepare our youth for this knowledge-based economy. These programs also need to be accessible, with evening classes available as well as online courses to help bridge any missing grades or classes that they may have not taken either in their early years at the university, or when they were in high school.
Now I know there will be a few people out there that might be tempted to say; “but a university should also do research and produce think-tanks”. While I concede to these people that yes a university should engage in research and produce think-tanks of which we can draw beneficial opinions from, that would be a duty for a university in which it was established specifically for research and thought. A polytechnic university is a training ground, and I am sorry that this does not make you happy but the truth is that a polytechnic university is established to provide education which more or less doubles as training courses (this is especially true for the trades programs offered and other similar programs). If the student wants to focus entirely on the type of research done by sociologists, psychologists and criminologists (to name a few), they should pursue a degree at a university renowned for its’ groundbreaking research and not waste their time at a polytechnic university who’s mandate is never to conduct research (at least the type of research that is irrelevant to providing better programmes and educational experiences to students). Yet before I go on, I will say this once more, diversity is key. So long as the polytechnic university does not forget its’ primary mandate (that of training skilled undergraduates), having a small cadre for the purposes of offering undergraduate programs that will enable them to go to grad school and conduct research is equally as important. As the country and our world evolves, more than ever the polytechnic university must provide a sort of flexibility not offered by ‘pure’ research universities.
“Polytechnic University”, when I see this name, I think of students entering a sort of “academy”. Where the knowledge taught to them, will help them find meaningful work after graduation and allow them to operate in this technology/knowledge-based economy and where their skills are applicable to their future career choices. A polytechnic is unique from any other university in that its’ mandate is to provide undergraduates who can improvise, adapt, and overcome the obstacles that life throws at them career-wise. Undergraduates who can immediately hop off the boat so to speak, and swim strongly to shore without ever doubting their abilities in the field, and that my friends, is a polytechnic university. Thank you all for reading, and I’ll see you next time.