How PCs and Liberals have damaged higher education
Ford’s government dropped yet another bombshell for Ontario’s universities and colleges when it announced, in the new budget, that 60 per cent of their funding will be tied to performance metrics by 2024-25.
Of all the policy changes made thus far — including cutting tuition, gutting OSAP, and replacing student democracy with a “student choice initiative”— this change will have the most transformative and enduring impact on postsecondary education.
Ford claims Ontario will become a “national leader in outcomes based funding,” failing to mention that the province is a leader in this regard. The previous Liberal government, in consultation with universities and colleges, developed the nuts and bolts of performance based funding in ‘Strategic Mandate Agreements.’
The new funding formula was set to come into effect next year, and the amount of funding tied to performance already far outpaced arrangements in any other province. Whereas the Liberals made Canada a “national leader” on performance funding, Ford is taking us to a level of “world leader” and “national aberration.”
The Liberals hailed “performance based” funding as a way to make postsecondary institutions more transparent and accountable to the taxpayer. At the same time, by deciding what outcomes to measure in the first place, it inaugurated a new way for government to shape universities’ research and academic plans.
Instead of tying funding to enrolment, the new formula made a sizeable chunk of it contingent on system-wide and institution-specific metrics, such as the number of publications, graduation rates, employment rates for recent graduates, etc.
Although the Liberals characterized performance funding as a way to measure the “value” and “efficiency” of universities, those who work at the university understand the way they transform – rather than measure – the work they do.
Metrics on the number of publications and citations prioritize quantity and hype over quality, time-consuming research; employment rates for recent graduates reduces pedagogy to training future workers; metrics on commercialization put departments in the humanities and social sciences at an acute disadvantage, the list goes on.
The point is not that performance metrics are necessarily bad, but that they involve making choices around what is indeed “valuable” and re-orient universities to serve governments.
Governments, however, come and go – and so do their particular visions for higher education. One of the more alarming tidbits in the budget is that Ford will reduce the number of metrics “from 38 for colleges and 28 for universities to 10 for each sector.”
Given the tenor of his far-right populist policies thus far, Ford will likely delete metrics on access and equity, community engagement, internationalization, interdisciplinary work, etc., rendering 60 per cent of funding dependent upon narrow, short-sighted measures of how higher education contributes to employment and economic growth.
The twilight of the university as place of self-reflection, fundamental inquiry, and criticality is upon us. Ford will pull the trigger, but the Liberals loaded the gun.
Joel Roberts is the graduate student representative on York University's Board of Governors and a PhD candidate in Social and Political Thought.