Ontario's universities plan to cut as many as 1,000 spots in their teacher-training programs over the next couple of years, but it remains unclear if such a move will eliminate a growing surplus of new graduates entering the profession.
For every two new teachers certified each year, there remains only one job in the province, pushing many to find part-time work, move overseas or leave the profession altogether.
John Milloy, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, said on yesterday that cutting back the number of graduates will help.
The government signalled to universities over the past few weeks that it will not fund the 1,000 spots, which were added between 2000 and 2002.
"This has been very much a top-of-mind issue," Mr. Milloy said. "We're going to continue to keep a very close eye on what the demand is out there.… But taking 1,000 spots out of the system is a pretty important first step."
A shortage of teachers in the 1990s prompted the government to expand teacher programs. A number of universities, including Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, introduced bachelor of education programs. Ontario students are also getting teaching degrees from colleges in Buffalo and a Burlington, Ont., campus of an Australian school.
Demand, however, can no longer keep pace with supply. Last year, there were 9,100 graduates, up from 6,000 in previous years.
"We've gone from a stage where we were producing insufficient numbers of teachers relative to retirements back in 1998 to a point … where we are producing many more teachers than retirees," said Frank McIntyre, manager of human resources at the Ontario College of Teachers.
Universities say the demand for a teaching degree hasn't disappeared. Colleen Willard-Holt, dean of Wilfrid Laurier's education faculty, said the profession is cyclical.
"We experience peaks and troughs as many other types of programs do. Right now, we're in a peak in supply and a little bit of a trough in demand," she said.
"While there aren't a significant number of professional opportunities in the immediate area, a number of our graduates are getting on supply lists and there are professional opportunities in other areas as well."