A number of faculty associations are hearing from university administrators that the Ontario government is set to embark on a significant “reform” of the higher education sector – therefore institutions need to be pro-active and position themselves to take advantage of anticipated government directions. And it would appear that some administrations are using these assumptions to re-orient their institutions into directions they would like to pursue. While it is assumed that the Ontario government has a fully-developed plan for a “more cost-effective model for delivering university education” ready to be implemented, this is simply not the case.
We do know, from the government’s past initiatives, the Liberal Party election platform, and the November 22, 2011 Throne Speech, that it would like to pursue certain initiatives — greater credit transfer between colleges and universities, more joint programming between colleges and universities, enhancements to online programs, more “accountability”. It has also committed to establishing three new satellite campuses in the Greater Toronto Area, which it would like to see as undergraduate institutions with a focus on teaching (as opposed to research). What this means in practice is still unknown.
The government will also be implementing an annual tuition grant of $1600 for up to 4 years of full-time undergraduate study for students from households earning $160,000 or less. The grant for colleges students will be $730. The cost of this program is estimated at $423 million starting in 2012-13, and rising to $486 million in four years.
In addition, the government has committed funding for 60,000 new spaces at Ontario’s universities and colleges by 2015-16, with $309 million in additional funding committed by 2013-14.
As well, the government states it is committed to following through on the Drummond Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Service, led by former TD Bank economist Don Drummond. The Commission is expected to report in January 2012, and its recommendations incorporated into the 2012 Ontario Budget. The recommendations will have implications for the broader public sector, including universities. To date, the government has stated that ” it will protect health care and education as the most important public services. Reforms will not compromise quality”. Of course what this means in practice is yet to be seen. It has been reported that in light of the government goal of balancing the budget by 2017-18, education funding will only be allowed to increase by 1% a year. Again, the devil will be in the details. What is clear is that funding for the higher education sector will focus on “affordabiliity” (i.e. the tuition grant) and accessibility (i.e. the 60,000 new spaces). There will be little funding available for needed quality improvements.
What is also clear is that various constituencies — for example, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), Ian Clark, David Trick and Richard Van Loon in their new book Academic Reform, Colleges Ontario — are lobbying the government to accept and implement their policy prescriptions for the “reform” of the higher education system. Those policy prescriptions are not the same, nor necessarily consistent with one another.
One policy prescription advocated particularly by HEQCO and in Academic Reform is the need for more “differentiated” universities — to which some university administrations are also responding. “Differentiation” is an abstract term meaning different things to different people.
There is currently no government policy on “differentiation”, and university administrators, although sometimes jumping on the bandwagon, have different ideas of what this ill-defined term means and how “differentiation” would be implemented. To date, no policy work has been done on encouraging “areas of strength” for universities on a system-wide basis, nor detailing what new accountability agreements will look like. In fact, when we speak to policy staff in the Ministry (i.e. not in the Minister’s office, where staff have just been hired) they have no clear idea where the government will be going in these areas, especially regarding the issue of university missions and “areas of strength”. Furthermore, there has been no policy work done on changing the funding formula to encourage “differentiation”.
Will the government undertake a fully-fledged restructuring of the higher education system? It is hard to crystal-ball gaze but it should be remembered that we are currently in a minority government, and it is more likely the attention of the government will be focussed on the health-care system. System-wide “reforms” can be hugely disruptive and politically perilous, especially in a minority-government situation. Where change does occur, it is safer for a government to do it incrementally.
Faculty associations will no doubt hear more about the need for greater “differentiation”, for faculty to do more teaching and for teaching-focussed institutions. OCUFA has responded, and will continue to respond, to those proposed policy “solutions” and will be running a campaign in the winter/spring on faculty concerns — which was noted at the October Board meeting, and will be discussed again at the February 2012 Board meeting. We are (and also will be) meeting regularly with government and the opposition parties to highlight our concerns, and will keep you informed about those discussions.
As well, at the December 2, 2011 OCUFA Collective Bargaining Committee meeting, David Trick will be making a presentation based on the book, Academic Reform which argues for more “teaching-focussed” undergraduate institutions, and for faculty to do more teaching. We will be providing a critique of that argument for those at the meeting. Their previous book, Academic Transformations by Ian Clark, Greg Moran, Michael Skolnik and David Trick, (2009) also argued for the creation of “teaching-only” universities in Ontario and “more learning per dollar”, as a form of differentiation, and the resulting cost savings, which we have also critiqued.
And as you may be aware, HEQCO put out a report on differentiation which OCUFA vigorously critiqued.
For the HEQCO paper:
For OCUFA’s response (and other critiques of relevance):
For a critique of Academic Transformations, please see the article by Ken Snowdon in Academic Matters:
OCUFA will continue to update you about Ontario government directions for higher education.
Mark Rosenfeld, Ph.D
Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations
83 Yonge Street, Suite 300
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5C 1S8
Tel: 416-979-2117 x229