Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

The Visioning of Policy and the Hope of Implementation: Support for Graduate Students' Teaching at a Canadian Institution

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

The Visioning of Policy and the Hope of Implementation: Support for Graduate Students' Teaching at a Canadian Institution

Article excerpt


Graduate students teach within the complex higher education environment of financial constraint, greater student diversity, and growing graduate enrolment (e.g., Austin, 2003). Teaching roles offer financial support and skill development while multiplying responsibilities (Price, 2008). Across the national working papers and institutional reports, policies, and websites that we analyzed, support for graduate students was linked to their roles (e.g., teaching assistants). Formal messages about responsibility varied; national documents pointed to institutions, while institutional documents pointed to departments, courses, and individual graduate students. Most supports for graduate students reported were already existing piecemeal supports with limited implementation, despite policy recommendations for broad, flexible, open-ended, and recognized programming. Future research is needed to further clarify the pathways from vision to action.


Les étudiants diplômés enseignent dans un milieu d'éducation complexe dont les ressources financières sont en déclin, la diversité étudiante est plus importante et l'inscription aux études supérieures est croissante (p. ex., Austin, 2003). Les rôles associés à l'enseignement offrent un support financier et le développement d'habiletés, tout en multipliant les responsabilités (Price, 2008). L'analyse de multiples documents (travail nationaux, rapports institutionnels, politiques et sites Web) révèle que le soutien aux étudiants diplômés est lié à leurs rôles (assistant d'enseignement). Les messages formels à propos des responsabilités varient également; les documents nationaux pointent les institutions, tandis que les documents institutionnels pointent les départements, les cours et les étudiants diplômés. Le soutien le plus fréquent existait déjà, selon une mise en oeuvre limitée en dépit des recommandations pour programmation plus générale, flexible, ouverte et reconnue. De nouvelles recherches sont nécessaires afin de pouvoir préciser les voies passant de la vision à l'action.


Global trends in higher education (HE) are rapidly shifting and evolving (Wildavsky, 2010). This dynamic environment presents a number of challenges for HE institutions, including increased demands for accountability, a tightening of fiscal resources, the rise of information technologies, and increasing diversity within student cohorts (Austin, 2003; Yankelovish, 2005). Within this complex environment, graduate students attempt to successfully navigate their program of study to achieve a sense of graduateness alongside their acquisition of skills for employability (Steur, Jansen, & Hofman, 2012). Employment as teaching assistants (TAs) can provide financial support and skill development, but adds to the juggling of responsibilities (Price, 2008) and presents new challenges, including adjusting to student-centered pedagogies demanded by the HE market place (Wright, Bergom, & Brooks, 2011). For graduate students to be sufficiently supported in their teaching duties, the scope and quality of support matter.

Across Canada, the number of graduate students continues to increase, with Statistics Canada reporting over 165,000 studying during 2011. They are likely to have teaching assistantships during their studies; however, the literature primarily focuses on TAs in the United States (Park, 2004), the United Kingdom (Muzaka, 2009), Australia (Kift, 2003), and New Zealand (Barrington, 2001). Although provincially governed, HE in Canada is shaped by federal research funding from the Tri-Council granting agencies, including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), as well as discussions by national bodies, including the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS). In the absence of provincial documents, our analysis of NSERC and CAGS visioning documents, along with institutional policies and websites, tells the story of how graduate students are supported in their teaching at one Canadian institution, including the stated goals, recommendations, and existing support. …

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