HAMILTON (CUP) — The Ontario government has launched an online database providing centralized course-to-course information for post-secondary students looking to transfer credits.

The ONTransfer.ca website was announced in mid-January and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities is in the early stages of developing the initiative’s functionality and offerings. Similar online transfer guides have been launched in previous years in British Columbia and Alberta.

“What we’re trying to put in place is a system-wide process that ultimately will involve all, hopefully, post-secondary institutions in Ontario,” said Brad Duguid, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

The new website will serve as an interactive guide, building on a static course-mapping initiative by the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer. ONCAT was established in 2011 among all 44 public post-secondary institutions in Ontario.

At this point, the University of Toronto, McMaster University, the University of Ottawa and Western University have not signed onto the ONTransfer initiative. Algonquin College, Cambrian College, Confederation College and St. Lawrence College are also not yet committed.

According to McMaster University’s provost, David Wilkinson, McMaster applied to join the database but a glitch along the way led to the university being excluded when the initiative was announced.

“We’re actually very interested in the credit transfer process. The best we can understand is there was a paperwork mix-up somewhere and the courses we accept for credit are not loaded on the database, so we’re in the process of fixing that,” Wilkinson said.

Siobhan Nelson, the University of Toronto’s vice-provost (academic), said the university will be “watching how the mobility and student success rolls out” before participating in the initiative.

“We want to see the concept tested before we go into it fully,” Nelson said. The University of Toronto is part of another credit transfer consortium established in 2011 among seven research-intensive universities in Ontario known as the ‘G7’.

“We looked at our records of where students are transferring into our programs and what courses they are taking credit for. That actually accounts for most of the credit transfer requests the U of T gets,” Nelson said. “Our key issue is we want to make sure we facilitate student success and credit transfer in equal measure.”

A separate consortium for engineering transfers is in the works, again linking the universities in the G7. The consortium would provide transfer pathways primarily among first- and second-year engineering courses.

The ONTransfer initiative, part of a $73.7 million investment by the Ontario government over five years, will unfold alongside the government’s push for greater differentiation among post-secondary institutions. As universities and colleges develop further in niche areas, they will also be expected to find commonalities in course offerings and provide more opportunities for student mobility. How that process will unfold remains to be seen.

“It’s a question that we [at McMaster] ask ourselves and we also engage the ministry on, because the ministry is pushing universities to be differentiated one from another in a number of ways,” Wilkinson said. “So the more we become differentiated, the more difficult it is to imagine a credit transfer system that treats courses that look similar at different universities as being ‘equivalent’ in both content and quality.”

One major challenge in determining course equivalencies is tracking what happens when courses at different universities change year to year.

“When you think about this over time, maintaining the currency of that database is an issue. I think for that reason this will develop perhaps more slowly than you might otherwise imagine, because we do need to make sure that when we accept an equivalence of a course it’s actually the same course that we evaluated,” Wilkinson said.

The ministry estimates that about 21,500 post-secondary students transfer between Ontario post-secondary institutions annually, and that transfer pathways have doubled to 600 over the past two years. By 2015, the ministry intends to “implement a well-established, province-wide credit transfer system” that would “expand and improve” post-secondary transfer pathways.

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