All Posts Tagged With: "federal pse"
Will reimburse the province for 2009 – 2010 funding
On Friday morning, the federal government said it would be transferring $275 million to Quebec, the money is intended to reimburse the province for spending on student aid during the 2009 – 2010 school year.
Since 1964, Quebec has run its own student aid program, independent of Canada Student Loans, and received “alternative payments” from the federal government to help fund it.
According to the federal press release, this transfer is a $150 million increase over 2008 – 2009 funding. The increase is due to changes in the federal loans program including new grants, a repayment assistance plan and a 10 per cent increase in the number of loans and grants issues.
While student groups have expressed some concern (in French) about the province’s plans for the money, which doesn’t come with any obligations, the province has said (in French) that it intends to invest all of the money in improving the student grants and loans program.
Canada poaches scientists from around the world, critics worry about lack of funds for teaching
After poaching 19 top researchers from around the world, Canada’s university sector couldn’t be more thrilled, but not everyone is happy with the money spent on the newly implemented Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) program.
The 19 chairs, distributed across 13 universities, all come from outside Canada, prompting fears of a brain drain from other countries. More than half of the CERC recipients will hail from the United States (9) and Britain (4), while the balance will be made up of researchers from Germany, Brazil and France.
Industry minister Tony Clement, whose government first announced the program in 2008, touted the initiative as proof of Canada’s scientific prowess. “The CERC program confirms Canada’s standing as a global centre of excellence in research and higher learning,” he said Monday. Each CERC appointment is worth $10 million over seven years, but with help from provincial governments and private donors that number has risen to an average of $27 million. The funding will be used to support research teams, as well as the researchers themselves.
The CERC program aims to bring in top talent in the technical fields of environmental sciences and technologies, natural resources and energy, health and related life sciences and technologies, and information and communications technologies.
Since the program was announced two-years ago, Canadian schools scrambled to have their research proposals accepted, which was followed by a nomination of potential chair holders. The final appointments were made by a selection board. Many of the universities that succeeded will come as little surprise, with the University of Alberta getting four chairs, and the University of Toronto two. There were upsets, as McGill University failed to get a chair, and a few surprises, epitomized by the awarding of an excellence chair to the University of Prince Edward Island.
Convincing foreign scientists to come to Canada has been met with several sports analogies. “It [was] almost like a hockey negotiation where you are trying to entice a player from another team. And the other team wants to hang on to them, and so they offer more money,” Derek Burney, head of the selection board, told the Globe and Mail.
In its praise of the Conservative government, Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, called the program “smart and strategic: smart because research is vital to Canada’s prosperity and we’re in a very competitive environment in terms of attracting and retaining world-class researchers. It’s strategic because it is focused on the four priority areas of Canada’s science and technology strategy.”
But not everyone believes the money is being well spent. The long awaited announcement of the chair holders comes at an awkward time for Canada’s universities. Many institutions are slashing budgets, including the University of Alberta which recently implemented an early retirement package, as well as furlough days. A report from the Toronto Dominion Bank, released Monday, warned of pressures on educational quality due to factors such as increased class sizes.
The contrast between money spent in the classroom and these new research chairs was not lost on Don Drummond, an economist and one of the authors of the report. “I’d still like to get my daughter into a smaller classroom,” he told the Globe. James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, also told the paper that he is similarly skeptical of the program, “We are bringing in stars at the same time that courses are being discontinued and labs are being shut.”
Others are critical that none of those awarded a research chair are women. Of the 40 shortlisted candidates provided by universities, all were male. Wendy Robbins who teaches English at the University of New Brunswick, told the Winnipeg Free Press’s Mia Rabson that she partially blames the lack of women on the program’s focus on technical fields where women tend to be underrepresented. Robbins says this is a mistake. “Unless you can patent it they’re not interested. But we need society and government to recognize not all our problems can be solved by science and engineering,” she said.
After leading the charge against FNU’s governance problems, CAUT is upset the feds are doing something about it
The most recent Bulletin from the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) slams the federal government for refusing to restore funding to First Nations University of Canada (FNUC).
Here’s Randy Lundy, from FNUC, quoted approvingly in the article:
We cannot understand the federal government’s decision, coming after the longstanding governance and administrative concerns at the university have been fixed.
Well, first of all, this is incorrect. The decision to cut funding came after years of problems which were never fixed. What Lundy and the CAUT bosses object to is that the government won’t restore the funding, now that the fixes have finally, supposedly, been made. But that’s like a philandering husband who’s been thrown out by his wife asking “why won’t you take me back, now? I’m not cheating any more!” Sorry. Too late.
Now, I sympathize with Lundy. He stands to lose his job through the incompetence of his governors. Everything should be done to find him and faculty members like him new positions. But what galls me is that CAUT has the audacity to pretend that the Federal Government is arbitrarily trying to destroy FNUC for no reason, when it was CAUT itself that led the charge against FNUC’s mismanagement in the first place. It was CAUT who censured FNUC, telling its members that the place was so messed up, no self-respecting academic should have anything to do with it. And now they have the nerve to act like they’ve been on FNUC’s side the whole time?
Remember, it was less than two years ago that CAUT said:
Censure is a measure of last resort used only when we are faced with violations of principles that are fundamental to higher education [...] In most cases, university and college administrations recognize the serious consequences censure will have on the reputation of the institution and its ability to recruit staff and students, and they look for ways to resolve problems before censure is imposed. Unfortunately, while the FNUniv administration and board were given every opportunity, they refused to show any serious willingness to address the concerns.
Today, they call, with a straight face, the federal funding cut “a surprise announcement.” How could CAUT be surprised that funding would be cut to a university that they themselves said violated the fundamental principles of higher education?
I am rarely on the side of Stephen Harper’s conservatives, but I applaud them for taking a stand on quality education. Even if the Canadian Association of University Teachers won’t.
Only the federal government stands in the way of bringing university back from the brink
Canadian academics are no longer being encouraged to boycott First Nations University, after the Canadian Association of University Teachers lifted its censure Friday Morning. Delegates to a national meeting of CAUT voted unanimously to lift its censure against the institution that was imposed 17 months ago. CAUT initially censured the institution due to a failure to implement governance reforms, and because of ongoing threats to academic freedom.
Before the reforms were implemented, both the provincial and federal governments pulled financial support for FNuniv. The province eventually restored its portion of the funding after the university entered into an agreement with the University of Regina, that would see the latter oversee FNuniv’s finances. The federal government has yet to announce it will restore its funding, but has provided FNuniv with $3 million so that students currently registered may complete the academic year in August.
CAUT says it is imperative that the federal government reinstate grants for the university. “We were once one of the loudest voices in the country when it came to demanding changes at the institution — those changes have been made, so we’ve lifted censure, and it is time for the federal government to do its part,” executive director James Turk said.
Star engineer accused of plagiarism and misusing research funding
A freedom of information request by Canwest has revealed that the federal Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) has “indefinitely” barred a University of Calgary engineer from receiving grants. The NSERC ban stems from allegations of a misuse of grant money and plagiarism. Although the documents obtained by Canwest were blacked out in places, and NSERC has not revealed who the researcher is, the news organization has discovered that the allegations pertain to University of Calgary engineering professor Daniel Kwok.
The allegations pertain to 2005 or before, when Kwok was working at the University of Alberta. The specialist in interfacial phenomenon has received more than $1.7 million in grant money from NSERC since 1998, with more than half being awarded after he moved to Calgary. According to Canwest, the documents they obtained from NSERC do not go into detail regarding the plagiarism allegation, but they do tell of grant money being spent on items “inconsistent” with Kwok’s research activities. Kwok says the allegations are “unfair.”
The federal government documents indicate that while Kwok was working at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, he spent close to $150,000 on purchases that seemed “inconsistent” with his research grant proposals, including computers, monitors, printers, a smartphone, an iPod, AMG aluminum wheels and chrome exhaust pipes for a car and home entertainment gear worth $17,624.63. His purchases include two televisions — a 50-inch and a 42-inch, complete with wall mount — and a stereo system with a digital receiver, speakers and a subwoofer.
Then, in 2005, Kwok walked away from the University of Alberta amid scientific and financial misconduct investigations and took a new job at the University of Calgary, which was not told of the controversy at his previous posting.
The University of Calgary hired Kwok as an associate professor and arranged for him to receive a $500,000 Canada Research Chair under a federal program meant for “exceptional emerging researchers.” The university set him up in a state-of-the-art lab, and Kwok resumed teaching — and receiving more research grants.
Then NSERC officials, four years after the investigations into Kwok’s conduct began, took the most drastic sanction at their disposal. In September 2009, they cut off all Kwok’s grants “indefinitely,” accusing him of “plagiarism” and “misuse of funds” in 2005 or before.
University scrambles to clean up its handling of federal research grants.
Sloppy management of federal research grant funding has seen the University of Calgary put on notice to clean up its practices by the end of March, or risk losing more than $80 million a year. In February, a report from the federal granting councils concluded that the way the university has administered research funding is “unsatisfactory,” and said that “immediate action” is needed.
The report was conducted by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council. The councils were following up on a 2006 investigation, and found that many of the recommendations from that report had not been implemented. Any decision as to University of Calgary’s funding eligibility would also affect grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Update: The report is in still in draft form, and is therefore confidential. However the University has a distributed a summary of the councils recommendations, available here.
The granting councils are concerned over a failure to ensure that expense claims such as for travel and graduate student salaries meet the requirements to be funded through federal research grants. There is also concern that costs not directly associated with research, like office supplies, are being expensed through the councils.
Although the granting councils have not actually threatened to pull funding, the university administration is warning faculty that loss of research money is a distinct possibility. “Unfortunately, the situation has become so serious we now run the immediate risk of having our eligibility for NSERC/SSHRC/CIHR funding suspended or withdrawn,” read a widely distributed memo from the administration.
Liberal leader wants a dedicated transfer for post-secondary education
On the seventh stop of his cross-country tour of Canadian campuses, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was given a hard time by students at the University of Manitoba. Seconds after the leader of the opposition started his presentation, a massive banner was rolled down from the second floor of the U of M’s Drake Centre brandished with a list of challenges facing Canadian students. After a few minutes, Ignatieff asked that the banner be removed because it was blocking the view of several audience members.
Despite the disturbance, Ignatieff went on with the event, opening the floor to questions from students after briefly criticizing Prime Minister Stephen Harper for proroguing Parliament.
While speaking to the university crowd, Ignatieff repeatedly emphasized that the federal government needs to prioritize education. “This is the engine room of the Canadian economy, and we need to put gas in the tank,” he said.
Ignatieff also says he advocates implementing a dedicated federal transfer for higher education. Presently, the federal education transfer is lumped in with the Canada Social Transfer, and there are no stipulations ensuring the money is actually spent on education, rather than falling into general revenue. “We have to have a way as a country to say: how do we prioritize education?” Ignatieff said.
Ignatieff says that students are not only living through a recession, but living through a “restructuring of the global economy,” saying that this is one of the main reasons why it’s important for the federal government to invest in “brain power.” The leader of the opposition also indicated that some of the operating costs of university research should be met by the federal government. He accused the Conservatives of funding capital projects to build labs but then failing to adequately operating costs. “We need a national strategy that says this kind of research is crucial to our economic future.”
Ignatieff also says that this doesn’t mean that every research project should be funded. “We need to have a national strategy in which we say, not everyone can be funded here, lets get peer review, the scientists in the field to decide who should get [funded].”
While speaking at Dalhousie University earlier this week, Ignatieff cautiously endorsed distributing federal funding on a per-student basis. As is, the size of the education transfer does not take into consideration the number of students actually educated within a province. It is based on population.
This funding model could potentially hurt provinces like Manitoba, which takes in disproportionately fewer out-of-province students, while provinces like Nova Scotia that take in disproportionately more out-of-province students, would benefit from the change. Ignatieff also endorsed this idea in a pamphlet distributed to Liberal party members during his unsuccessful 2006 bid for the Liberal leadership.
However, when asked about a federal per student funding model at the University of Manitoba, Ignatieff dismissed it. “You’re taking me further than I think the Liberal party is prepared to go. . . We respect provincial jurisdictions in education.” Although, Ignatieff did leave the option of a federal per student transfer open, saying, “I think we should explore the question.”
Ignatieff is visiting 11 university campuses across the country this week to kick off the Canada at 150 conference to be held in Montreal at the end of March.
Tories axe grant for education research
The capacity for research into Canada’s education sector has been constrained once again. It was announced today that funding for the Canadian Council on Learning will not be continued. The CCL was created by the Liberals in 2004 with a five-year grant of $85 million. Funding was extended for a year. Federal money accounts for 95 per cent of CCL’s budget.
The CCL has released several annual reports analyzing higher education, the state of learning beyond formal schooling, and adult literacy. It exists, according to the organization’s website, “to provide Canadians with the most current information about effective approaches to learning for learners, educators, employers and policy-makers.”
Paul Cappon, the group’s CEO, told the Globe and Mail, “What Canada would lose without CCL would be like being a student without a report card of any kind. And we’d be prevented from knowing how far behind the competition we’re slipping.” Although, the Conference Board of Canada, released a thorough comparative analysis of Canada’s education system earlier this week.
Cappon says that the CCL will continue in a reduced capacity and seek alternative sources of funding.
The Council is just the latest in a series of research organizations to be clipped from the federal budget. The Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation officially dissolved this past Monday, and due to a lack of funding, the Canadian Policy Research Networks shut down over the holiday.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff says the funding cut is “incredible” and that removing funding for education during a recession is the “worst possible time.” Ryan Sparrow, a government spokesman, told the Globe that the CCL was unable to provide the type of research that the government would like to see, and, so the Tories will be working with the provinces to find an alternative approach.
Most of the remaining organizations, aside from Statistics Canada and the Conference Board, that have the capacity to research education on a national scale come from the higher education sector itself. These include the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, and the Canadian Federation of Students.
The Council’s funding will end in March.
Justifying the university means justifying what universities do, not what we want them to do
Over at University Affairs, deputy editor Léo Charbonneau, recently asked his readers for their thoughts about protecting universities against the possibility of massive cuts to higher education. He asks, “What’s the best line of argument to protect universities from the cuts to come?”
Charbonneau poses the question after reviewing an article by Paul Wells written for the alumni mag at Wells’ alma mater (see here, page 46). Wells, one of the few national columnists who thinks higher education is worth talking about, admonishes the idea that university administrators should take a pragmatic approach to protecting their funding.
Administrators like to emphasize the economic impact of higher education. Universities are special, they argue. Not only do they contribute to economic activity in the here and now (like every other large employer) but they make our workforce more productive, and contribute to job creation across the entire economy, and in the long term, in ways that no other sector can. Give them more money and we will get more economic growth as a result. ( The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada made this very argument in its pre-budget submission to parliament’s finance committee).
Such a line of argument would be great for universities if it were true, or, if it is true, if it could be proven. Unfortunately this is not really the case. As Wells writes:
The problem with that line of argument is that in a really nasty economic environment, governments on a tight budget will take that as a cue to go hunting for anything a university does that doesn’t, demonstrably, simplistically, generate the ideas that drive a new economy. Whatever they find that looks like a ‘frill’ by that definition will be in danger of getting cut. And frankly, most of what goes on at a university is hard to justify as part of a job-creation mill.
Charbonneau takes issue not with Wells’ analysis, but with Wells’ conclusions that universities “need to go back to basics and talk more … about the intrinsic value of knowledge, scholarship, beauty, contention, and an environment that urges scholars toward ambition and accomplishment.” Charbonneau finds Wells misguided, and says he doubts “whether it’s the type of argument that our current governments will buy into.”
Though Charbonneau does not come right out and say it, it seems obvious that he sides with the view that universities should adopt a pragmatic approach and tell governments what they think governments want to hear.
It should be obvious that Wells is correct on this question.
Of course current governments are not going to buy into the argument that universities are justified by their core activities of teaching and learning. No one ever bothers to make the case to them. Instead universities act ashamed that they investigate the origins of the universe, or competing views on Milton’s Paradise Lost, and emphasize what are in actuality only incidental outcomes of higher education.
The logic of academia is internal, meaning its impact on the rest of society cannot be predicted or planned. And, if we start trying to plan it, then what made academia unique withers away. Taking the pragmatic approach does not convince governments to value higher education, it concedes the terms of debate to those who think intellectual pursuits are all about direct economic outcomes. What happens when people start looking for this return?
A more appropriate way to view universities might be something similar to how we view public spending on the arts. As a certain prairie based education writer put it earlier this week:
[T]he public is not stupid, and universities should not be so sheepish about what they do. If universities announced that they were no longer going to study ancient history, or the origins of the universe, or Shakespeare, then the public would likely be distressed.
After all, we support public funding for the arts because of the intrinsic good they are thought to confer on the community. Why not teaching and learning? Like the arts, higher education is a luxury of wealthy societies to be appreciated, not as a means to solve all our problems or to be debased on utilitarian grounds.
If schools want to justify themselves, or demonstrate their relevance, they have to show us what it is that they uniquely do.
To be sure, such reasoning puts schools at risk of being dismissed as frivolous, but it doesn’t have to. Higher education advocates should learn to own the debate and not be afraid to talk about what they actually do.
Wesley Stevenson charged with fraud of more than $5,000
Wesley Stevenson, accused of defrauding First Nations University of Canada of more than $5,000, will get his day in court, after a three-day preliminary hearing held this week, the Regina Leader Post reports. The university’s governance problems stretch back several years, prompting several audits and independent reviews. Troubles continue to this day.
In 2005, Stevenson, a former financial executive, and two other senior officials at the university were suspended and the university’s board of governors ordered a forensic audit of the school’s finances. He and another official were eventually fired, while the third returned to work. In the months that followed, several high-ranking officials were fired or suspended and others resigned. Stevenson was officially charged by the RCMP in June of last year.
Senior staff, including Stevenson, alleged political interference in the operation of the university by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and its vice-chief, Morley Watson.
The concerns over academic freedom and political interference in the autonomous governance of the university prompted the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) to conduct an independent review of the university in 2007 and to place the institution’s membership in AUCC on probationary status. The university’s full member status has since been reinstated.
In late 2008 the Canadian Association of University Teachers voted to censure FNUC over the university’s governance problems. Censure means that most university teachers will be told to refuse appointments at the university, decline invitations to speak or participate in academic conferences hosted by the university, and turn down any distinctions it offers.
And earlier this year both the Saskatchewan and federal governments suspended funding to the school. The province made the move to freeze $200,000 after an internal report raised concerns about how the Regina-based university is run. An audit committee was established to address the governance issues in a serious way
The $2.4-million that is being held back by Ottawa represents one-third of all Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) funding to the university. INAC has said that university officials must meet various deadlines in the coming months and submit a final “action plan” by Jan. 1, 2010 to trigger a release of the funds. This is the first time the federal department has placed these kinds of conditions on an institution.
The university’s governance problems have persisted. Cheif Financial Officer Murray Westerlund was fired just last week. While the school is claiming that Westerlund’s departure was a mutual agreement, advanced education minister Rob Norris is not buying it and says while the government continues to work with the FNUC to complete the internal audit, it is not sure what action will be taken next.
With files from the Canadian Press and Karen Pinchin
Finance committee sticks to economic role of universities–research “must be commercialized”
Unsurprisingly, those hoping for the federal government to take a robust role in higher education will have to wait. At least that is the view of the Standing Committee on Finance, which filed its pre-budget report yesterday. The report contains a litany of recommendations, including a few of direct interest to students and universities, that may or may not pop up in next year’s budget.
Though the committee met with several “witnesses,” or gaggles of interest groups, there doesn’t appear to be much connection between what the committee was told and what it recommended.
On education, the primary concern of witnesses were measures that would require the federal government to intervene deeply into provincial jurisdiction, and coordinate higher education policy from Ottawa. Chief among these measures would be a “Post-Secondary Education Act.”
Modeled on the Canada Health Act, a PSE Act would require that the Canada Social Transfer be divided between social services and post-secondary education. Stipulations would be put in place to make the funding contingent on the provinces actually spending the money on education, rather than on roads and other items. Presently, the only requirement placed on provinces with respect to the CST is that eligibility for services, like social assistance, not be tied to residence. They are free to make residence a requirement when concerning admission to university, however. While the federal government announced such a change in 2007, it was all but forgotten a year later.
After reviewing witness submissions, the committee instead recommended:
The federal government, in partnership with the provinces and territories, explore the development of a national strategy to promote greater emphasis on Canadian education services exports.
So while the committee did recommend the government explore a “national strategy” of sorts, and though universities may welcome it, it is not the type of strategy witnesses advocated. Why even bother calling for submissions from Canadians?
As for student aid, the committee advocates a new refundable tax credit be created to encourage graduates to relocate to regions having difficulty recruiting workers:
[It is recommended that] the federal government create a refundable tax credit for new graduates. The proposed tax credit should be available to those who move to designated regions and engage in employment in their field of study.
The question that comes to mind is, wouldn’t this duplicate policies already in place? Sasaktchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick–who all have trouble attracting workers–already provide tax credits (or rebates) to graduates who live and work in the province, no matter where they went to school. And generous ones at that.
PSE folks have been calling for national direction but Harper’s latest moves suggest it’s not on the radar
You wouldn’t know it from listening to Canada’s amnesiac higher education sector but, perhaps the biggest story regarding post-secondary policy to come out of last week’s federal budget was what wasn’t said.
Think back to last spring when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced an additional $800 million for the Canada Social Transfer with the caveat that it would be cordoned off for higher education. A one-time billion dollar transfer for post-secondary infrastructure was also announced. Or, put another way, the PSE sector’s Holy Grail.
Details on what conditions might accompany the new money, we were promised, would be given later, presumably at the next budget. Well the next budget has come and gone (thanks to the Liberal party) and still no details on whether Ottawa will require the provinces to actually spend the money on education, as opposed to, say, roads and sewers.
This should have education advocates up in arms. Calls for a national strategy on higher education have been coming from the sector for years. Suggested initiatives have ranged from some sort of framework to define what constitutes spending on higher education, to enshrining educational standards from coast to coast, to the creation of a federal ministry of education. Canada is the only developed country to have no national education portfolio.
However, aside from a few assorted foot stomps decrying the absence of a coherent Canada-wide vision, the Educational Policy Institute was, evidently, the only group to acknowledge the omission: “suggesting that despite the fanfare that surrounded the creation of a PSE ‘transfer,’ the federal government actually considers this money to be an unrestricted transfer to the provinces.”
Even the Canadian Federation of Students, which issued four media releases on the budget was silent on this issue, despite long calling for a framework to make sure provincial transfer payments are actually being spent on education.
In any event, the lack of an overarching national plan for post-secondary policy, I would argue, is precisely how the federal government wants it. As a professor of PSE told me in an interview in the fall, “Stephen Harper doesn’t do social policy.” Nope, that is the responsibility of the provinces.
The scrapping of the Millennium Scholarship Foundation is also suggestive of this. Constitutional purists have long found the Fund offensive, not because of its perceived lack of accountability, or its alleged ineffectiveness, but because it is seen as an unnecessary intrusion into provincial responsibilities.
Those wedded to a more classical approach to federalism have argued that the money should have been transferred through adjustments to the equalization scheme, or, failing that, through the Canada Student Loans framework, which is what the Tories have opted to do.
True, the Student Loans program is often considered intrusive in its own right, but it is seen, by those who sleep with the BNA Act under their pillow, as the preferable (if imperfect) way to give grants to students, partly because it is an established program, and partly because banking falls within the powers of the federal government.
Of course this is nothing new. Stephen Harper’s goal of “clarifying” the division of powers and promoting a compartmentalized vision of federalism is widely acknowledged. Earlier this week Tom Flanagan, Harper’s mentor and former chief of staff, proudly announced that the government is well on its way to “re-engineering” the country.
Flanagan argued that because of cuts to the GST, to income and corporate taxes, and the end of massive surpluses, that the federal government is now “boxed in.” The provinces theoretically have more money due to modifications to equalization made last year, and if premiers want to invest more in social programs, they have more tax room to move into. Or so the argument goes.
If withdrawing further from PSE policy indicates affirming provincial responsibilities, the promise in last October’s throne speech to use Ottawa’s trade and commerce power to demolish interprovincial trade barriers is an affirmation of federal power. Classical federalism envisions a national government solely responsible for creating an economic space, with subnational governments tailoring social policy to their specific communities.
While such developments may be attributable to the Harper government, they reflect an ebb back to the constitutional division of powers that has been going on since at least the mid-1980s when the National Energy Program ended. And, as political scientist David Cameron argued in a 2001 paper, higher education serves as a pretty good barometer of the state of federalism in Canada.
In fact, PSE, especially in the past 20 years, resembles something close to exactly what constitutional purists have been calling for in the country more generally. Ottawa largely limits involvement to spending on research, which is justified (most agree rightly so) under the trade and commerce power, and transfer payments for education come void of even the whiff of conditionality (have been for decades).
What’s more, the consequences are pretty close to what would be predicted. Provincial systems are tailored to local preferences, be it through B.C.’s convoluted patchwork of universities, university colleges and degree granting community colleges, Ontario’s coterie of private institutions, or Quebec’s obscenely low tuition fees.
Now, whether or not the rest of the country will look like this when the Harper government is through remains to be seen. As is, if it is even possible (hello Canada Health Act). Or, perhaps, more importantly, if it is desirable.
What is certain, however, is that a national strategy on post-secondary education is as far away as it has ever been.