Note of concern about the Ontario government’s Productivity and Innovation Fund for universities and colleges
As some of you may be aware, the latest instalment of the Ontario government’s “transformational change” agenda for the post-secondary sector is a Productivity and Innovation Fund of $45 million. [I am attaching the English and French versions of the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) letter to the university executive heads and college presidents announcing the fund, and the Productivity and Innovation Fund guidelines and requirements for project proposals.]
The creation of the Innovation and Productivity Fund follows last year’s MTCU discussion paper (Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge), which floated a number of proposals for making universities and colleges more productive while limiting growth in government funding. Ontario Budget 2013 announced funding for the next three years that will actually fall in inflation-adjusted terms. Meanwhile, enrolment continues to rise. OCUFA has already identified the pitfalls of a misplaced focus on productivity in its research commentary — The University Productivity We need: The Ontario Faculty Perspective.
We wanted to draw your attention to productivity-related initiatives that may soon be undertaken at your institutions, if they have not already. Universities are invited to apply for funding to implement projects that correspond to the priority areas identified in the attached memo from the Minister and MTCU guidelines: “program prioritization” and “course redesign.” (The guidelines document provides links to descriptions of these programs by their primary proponents.) The funds are available on a one-time basis for this fiscal year only, with up to $22 million for projects submitted by individual institutions and $23 million for joint projects. There are enough funds for each institution to undertake at least one project.
The deadline for a proposal to MTCU for funding from your institution is September 30, 2013 — i.e in less than two weeks. The impact on faculty members and university programs will depend entirely on the specifics of what each institution proposes to have the government fund. Some of the funding areas, such as course redesign, could have the potential to violate your collective agreement, and the academic freedom of your members. Others may potentially conflict with departmental and senate processes. Other types of project funding could be benign, such as the administrative savings envelope. In light of this, we recommend that if you are not currently aware of your administration’s intent with respect to the Productivity and Innovation Fund, that you request the specifics of the projects they intend to submit as soon as possible.
If you have any concerns about the nature of the projects your institution is choosing to fund, I would be pleased to discuss this with you.
In addition to the implications on each campus of this program, OCUFA has concerns about the impact on university autonomy of the directive nature of this type of envelope funding. Next steps with respect to the entire differentiation and program prioritization agenda of this government will be discussed by the OCUFA Board at its September 28-29, 2013 meeting.
Mark Rosenfeld, Ph.D
Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations
17 Isabella Street
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4Y 1M7
Tel: 416-979-2117 x229