It has been more than two years now since the Ontario government and, specifically, the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU) began their province-wide initiative to differentiate the post secondary education sector.

What began with the 2012 MTCU discussion paper entitled “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation, and Knowledge” gradually evolved into the current individualized Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs) that were recently approved by the provincial government and released to the public.

What are these agreements? Well, back in 2012 the MTCU asked each of Ontario’s 44 post-secondary institutions to draft individual visioning documents, to be approved by the Ministry, that would determine the specific areas, disciplines, and initiatives that each school could undertake over the next five years.

The goal at the time was radical differentiation and Trent’s 2012 SMA draft re-imagined the future of this university, promising to create two brand new schools of learning; a cutting edge sustainable village in the core of Symons Campus; and a new business and student entrepreneurship centre.

However, those first drafts were never accepted by the Province and last year the Trent administration once again had to put pen to paper and draw up a vision for the future.

In examining Trent’s document, what is most interesting is that, unlike the earlier incarnation, the new SMA does not offer specifics on any radical new initiatives. Rather, it offers some profound insight into the broader direction that Trent University (and indeed the broader provincial post-secondary system) is being steered by administration, staff, and government. `Most importantly, it backs up these insights with real data.

For example, while the Trent administration has talked somewhat vaguely for several years about wanting to introduce more online courses to the university’s offerings, the reality is that there has already been an aggressive pursuit of this path. The SMA notes that Trent has “tripled the number of online and blended courses in the past two years” and that there are now more than 3000 individual registrations in almost 60 online undergraduate courses.

These numbers represent a dramatic shift in the way that Trent is delivering educational content to its students. Especially when you consider the fact that in this same time period, the administration has cut a number of traditional tutorial courses.

And while the number of online registrations still represents only approximately six percent of the total, the SMA makes it clear that we should expect that number to increase significantly over the next few years.

Another example can be found how the SMA discusses Trent’s relationship with its sister institutions in Peterborough and Oshawa.

Although it is by now common knowledge that the government is actively attempting to break down the boundaries between college and university and, more broadly, between academic and professional programming all together, the SMA gives a real sense of what this future of cross-pollination could look like.

The document calls for the “formal alliance” of Trent University and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) that would “bring… humanities, science, social science, professional programs, and Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) disciplines together…” with the stated goal of creating “a comprehensive and co-operative model for the sector.”

While the specifics of this “alliance” are not spelled by the SMA, it is clear that this path is being actively pursued by the current Trent administration.

These are just two of the many examples of how the SMA is forecasting the future of higher education, both here at Trent and across Ontario. For anyone interested in the future of Trent, it is definitely worth checking out.