Changes to public funding regimes, coupled with transformations in how universities are managed and measured have altered the methods for educating undergraduate students. The growing reliance on teaching fellows, teaching assistants, and increasingly undergraduate peer educators (administering Supplemental Instruction [SI] programs) is promoted as a means toachieve a greater “return on investment” in the delivery of postsecondary education. Neoliberal discourses legitimating this downloading of teaching labour suggest it offers a “win-win” solution to the “problem” of educating growing numbers of undergraduate students. It proposes universities can deliver the same curricula, and achieve the same “outcomes” (primarily measured through grades and retention) for a substantially lower investment. Taking a political economy approach to examining transformations in Canadian postsecondary education, this article has three objectives. First, it traces the emergence and development of the discourses supporting the restructuring of teaching. Second, it unpacks these discourses and situates them within the context of successive reductions of public funding in postsecondary education. Third, it explores the expansion of SI as a microcosm of the broader complex shifts in the organization, management, and search for “efficiencies” in higher education, and challenges uncritical policy supporting the outcomes of SI.
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