All Posts Tagged With: "funding"
Leaked policy paper suggests more central planning
An Ontario ministry policy paper suggests the province is opting for a more centrally planned system. The “Draft Differentiation Policy Framework,” marked “Confidential,” was sent to administrators this week. It says universities will be asked to make clear what programs and services they do better than their peers because Ontario can no longer afford “duplication.”
That has prompted questions about how universities will decide what programs and services are priorities and whether those that don’t make the cut will be left to wither and die.
Chris Mercer is Chief of Staff at Laurentian University in Sudbury, a school that has already identified a small number of signature programs and an even smaller number of priority areas. He says he hopes decisions on what to do with non-strategic programs are left up to each institution.
Smaller budgets for arts and sciences aren’t inevitable
If you are my age or younger, you probably can’t remember many times when universities weren’t under financial pressure. When I was an undergraduate in Ontario, everyone was talking about underfunding and rising tuition fees. Today, my university in Nova Scotia continues to deal with annual government cuts. Residents of other provinces can, no doubt, fill in their own stories.
The news that the University of Alberta is suspending enrollment in twenty arts programs is, in a sense, no surprise.
There are plenty of complexities here to be sure. U of A keeps reminding people that not very many students will be directly affected by these cuts since most of the programs are small, and some students may be able to get what they need in similar programs. Besides, U of A is cutting science seats too.
Conversely, others have pointed out that some of these programs should be small (it’s unsafe to have large numbers of students in technical theatre classes, for instance), and cutting tiny, low-cost programs like classical languages can’t possibly save much money. Oh, and in science, they are only cutting enrollments, which is not the same as cutting programs.
Prof. Pettigrew: It’s not just the anti-gay agenda.
Canada’s Christian post-secondary institutions just can’t stay away from controversy. It seems like only yesterday, everyone (including this guy) was talking about the CAUT’s reports condemning various institutions for their lack of academic freedom.
More recently, the law community has had its briefs in a knot over Trinity Western’s push to get a law school. Can a school that requires adherence to a rigid code of belief really educate good lawyers whose very stock in trade is free and open discussion? A lot of people think not.
And now New Brunswick’s Crandall University has raised eyebrows for getting millions in federal funding. In fact, religious universities in Canada received some $20 million from the Harper Government’s 2009 Knowledge Infrastructure scheme.
What students are talking about today (March 13th)
1. First-year University of Waterloo student Celeste Anderson has won $100,000 and the title King of the Nerds on the eponymous American reality TV contest show. Contestants competed in events like Segway races, debates and Cosplay (costume play), according to Metro News. Before the show, Anderson traveled across North America competing in video game tournaments where she excelled at Halo. She’s considering a career in video game design. The show’s finale is tonight on Slice. Totally missed this sleeper hit? Don’t worry, it has been renewed for a second season.
2. Even supposedly conservative Alberta has spent so much that they are now forced to make drastic cuts to post-secondary education. An editorial writer for The Gateway student newspaper isn’t pleased, in part because programs at some schools could be eliminated if others offer them nearby. “The new plan for Alberta education doesn’t see the point in the same programs being offered between two nearby schools,” writes Andrew Jeffrey. “But this policy hurts post-secondary accessibility as fewer students will be able to qualify for these programs… with tougher competition.” Alberta has traditionally provided more funding than other provinces, which are now cutting too.
Student group says there won’t be second ‘Maple Spring’
Not even the most militant of Quebec’s student federations expects this week’s education summit to plunge the province into another Maple Spring.
Quebec gained international attention last year when a dispute over proposed tuition hikes boiled into a months-long uprising.
The unrest, dubbed the Maple Spring, saw thousands of protesters swarm Montreal streets night after night. The crisis eventually faded away, in part because the Liberals lost power and the incoming Parti Quebecois government cancelled the tuition increases.
The PQ stickhandled its way through the perilous political issue, during the election, by promising to come up with a new tuition policy at an education summit.
Some students are feeling disillusioned and boycotting the two-day summit, which starts Monday, because they believe the new government has tuned out some of their ideas.
The ranks of the restive, however, appear smaller than last year.
“We are aware… that there will not be a new Maple Spring,” said Blandine Parchemal of the ASSE student federation, one of the more militant groups within the movement.
“The Maple Spring is over.”
The once-powerful ASSE, led by its charismatic former spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, suffered several setbacks last week after it failed to gather support on a strike vote from a number of its associations.
The most symbolic setback came at a college near Montreal known as a bastion of activism, which was the first school to declare a strike last February in an event that kicked off the movement.
This time, College de Valleyfield not only voted against the strike, it tabled a motion to disassociate itself from ASSE.
That doesn’t mean the tuition divide between students and the government has disappeared.
One of the major sticking points is the PQ government’s intention to freeze rates, which are the lowest in Canada, but to introduce small increases indexed to inflation.
Some student federations that made up last year’s protest movement have drawn a line in the sand at an absolute tuition freeze.
They say they refuse to accept indexation.
ASSE, meanwhile, decided to boycott the summit completely over the government’s refusal to debate the group’s desire for zero tuition.
They view free university as an achievable goal, if only policy-makers would make it a priority like in many other jurisdictions. Former premier Jacques Parizeau, who as a young civil servant in the 1960s helped build the province’s university network, expressed support for their cause.
The federation is now planning to take its battle back into the streets. ASSE has planned to stage a protest Tuesday outside the summit venue.
With memories of last year’s clashes with demonstrators, Montreal police pledge to be present in large numbers and will maintain a security perimeter around the summit’s building.
Student associations representing junior colleges and universities affiliated with ASSE have also voted to hold a one-day strike on Tuesday.
But any protest revival from within ASSE faces an uphill climb. Several of its member unions voted last week against the strike, including those from some of the most militant schools during last year’s uprising.
“There’s a lot of exhaustion,” said Parchemal, ASSE’s secretary of academic affairs. She was referring to the compressed, intensive academic schedules students have had to endure after the 2012 strikes cancelled sessions.
She maintained, however, that the associations that voted against the strike still oppose indexation and support free tuition. Parchemal added that some schools that voted against strikes last year, actually supported the most recent one.
That stood in contrast to places like College de Valleyfield — where the vote was 366 against the strike and 124 in favour of it, said a student-union representative.
“We didn’t expect to be crushed like that,” said Cedrick Mainville, himself a supporter of the strike.
He blamed the loss on student fears that a Yes vote would lead to a prolonged strike like last year.
ASSE’s approach is much different than that of FEUQ, the largest student group in the province. The organization, which says it represents 125,000 students, plans to take its concerns to the summit’s negotiating tables rather than into the streets.
FEUQ president Martine Desjardins believes the student movement still has many potential avenues to explore before presenting a strike vote.
“Before that, you need to prove that you’ve tried everything that you could,” said Desjardins, who led FEUQ during last year’s protests.
When asked if students in her federation would be prepared to strike over indexation, she said it’s too early to know.
“We’re not planning strikes, for example, in two weeks,” she said. “It will take much more time to convince students to ramp up the pressure.”
Desjardins disagrees with ASSE’s decision to boycott the summit, a step she believes could hinder the process.
Last year’s student unrest was ignited by opposition to the Liberal government’s proposal to boost tuition rates by $325 per year, over five years. The government later tweaked the planned increases to $254 per year, over seven years.
Even though the hike still would have left Quebec with some of the lowest tuition in Canada, many students insisted they opposed the increase out of principle.
Some demanded a freeze to keep fees from inching closer to the higher rates in other provinces. Others called education a right that should be free, just like in some European countries.
The Marois government appears to be aiming for the middle ground with indexation, somewhere between a freeze and the increases proposed by the former Liberal government.
A recent poll suggested the PQ’s middle-ground indexation solution had strong public support.
That’s a far cry from the spring, when the PQ’s early alignment with the protesters — such as wearing red squares in the national assembly and banging on pots and pans in the streets — came to be viewed as a political liability.
But the PQ did take some steps to try distancing itself from the protesters in the weeks before the election.
It ditched the red squares, and started side-stepping questions about its own tuition policy by promising a summit.
Now that the moment has arrived, university administrators worry the meeting won’t address the serious issues they say are facing post-secondary institutions.
Relations between the PQ and the universities are already strained after the government announced a $124-million cut to universities in December, midway through the fiscal year.
Universities have gone on the offensive in the lead-up to the summit. At one of a series of town hall meetings, McGill University’s provost called the cuts “an unprecedented attack” on higher education.
Alan Shepard, president of Montreal’s Concordia University, said he’s concerned the summit will get bogged down in the debate over tuition fees and proposals like that one won’t see serious discussion.
Even with an increase tied to inflation, Quebec universities would remain woefully underfunded, he said.
“The difference is substantial when you compare the financing we have per student compared with the rest of Canada,” he said in an interview.
One idea being floated by Shepard and others is to introduce differential fees based on the subject, so that a student in dentistry or law school would pay substantially more than a history student.
If the funding issue isn’t somehow addressed, Shepard said Montreal risks losing what he called an “enormous jewel” – a hub for research and student learning at its four major universities.
Universite de Montreal rector Guy Breton said post-secondary institutions now realize they need to do a better job explaining their role. Last spring, he felt they were drowned out in a debate dominated by students and the government.
“The student message was two letters — n-o,” he said.
“Ours is much more complicated.”
—Andy Blatchford and Benjamin Shingler
Anti-tuition argument never made sense to me
Canada and the United States are broadly similar nations mostly separated by public policy. Last year’s tuition debate in Quebec shined a spotlight on not only the difference in education policy between the two countries, but also on the “Two Solitudes” cultural gap between English Canada and Quebec.
As an American studying at McGill University, I have a unique perspective on the tuition debate, which is sure to flare up again next week during a provincial summit on higher education.
The average price of an American college education has continued to rise, with tuition at four-year private universities now averages $29,056. Ancillary fees like room and board add about an extra $10,000. Similar increases have occurred at public universities. In Canada, the average tuition is $5,581 a year. In Quebec it’s $2,168.
That difference may create sticker shock for Canadians, but in the U.S., unlike Canada, most students receive substantial needs-based subsides that reduce the ‘actual’ average tuition at private universities to just under $13,000. A great redistribution of money from richer to poorer students in the U.S. leads to average student debts that are surprisingly comparable in the two countries.
I had the misfortune of encountering the Quebec tuition debate very quickly after the start of my first year. Still acclimating to the new and somewhat colder environment, I read of the controversy in the campus papers. The sticking point was the former Liberal government’s planned increase of $1,625 over five years for an eventual total of over $3,000. Despite the hike being only $325 each year, the proposal stirred passions. A general strike was called and, at its height, protests numbering in the thousands were a near-nightly occurrence, especially after the passage of the highly controversial Law 78, which restricted demonstrations.
As an American used to far more expensive university tuition—even international rates at McGill were substantially lower than those at several of the universities I considered in the States—the anti-hike argument did not speak to me on either an individual or ideological level.
Five things students are talking about today (February 21st)
1. It must be especially difficult to be gay and a Mormon right? Well it may have just become easier. Jimmy Hales, a student at Brigham Young University, decided to come out to his friends and family while recording their reactions. Most of them were surprisingly supportive—if a bit shocked. In a blog post he writes that he will never get married and plans stay celibate his whole life, but he’s happy with the acceptance he’s found. That may not be the ideal situation for most gay youth, but it seems to work fine for him.
2. It’s less than a month until the only holiday where students feel justified drinking before noon: St. Patrick’s Day. In anticipation of excessive drinking, one U.S. college, Penn State, has a daring plan. They’re going to pay 34 downtown bars, restaurants and shops $5,000 each to not sell alcohol that day, reports The Associated Press. It’s happening because of complaints from the community. The city hasn’t had a St. Paddy’s Day like that one last year in London, Ont.
Tuition freeze likely
The Parti Quebecois government appears to be challenging the notion that the province’s universities are under-funded, a tactic that could hold significant implications it prepares to hold a highly anticipated summit on education.
The government has promised to host a symposium in February aimed at finding a long-term solution to the challenge of university funding, an event that stems from a key PQ election pledge to cancel previously planned tuition hikes.
But it is now sending signals that universities might not actually require a financial boost.
Members of the government including Premier Pauline Marois have in recent weeks been repeatedly challenging the premise that the province’s universities are under-financed. On Thursday, the government even leaked a report to the media challenging that oft-repeated notion.
Before judging, please consider what professors actually do
A lot is being written about universities these days and much of it paints a rather troubling picture. Some of the more popular arguments were put forward by Margaret Wente—who seems to write the same column about post-secondary education every few months—this weekend: the system is in crisis, it doesn’t sufficiently prepare students for the job market, the quality of teaching has continuously declined, and overpaid, lazy professors are sitting in their ivory towers denying that anything is wrong.
Universities are facing real and significant challenges, and I agree that anyone who thinks the only problem is underfunding is deluding themselves (that said, let’s not dismiss funding as an issue: across Canada, government funding as a proportion of university revenues has gone from 80.9 per cent in 1989 to 58.3 per cent in 2009. In Ontario, it is down 49.5 per cent! This trend poses myriad issues, including shifting the funding burden to students and creating incentives for universities to boost funding by adding more students.)
But can we really blame inadequate funding?
In a survey completed by 2,300 Ontario faculty members this spring, 43 per cent of professors agreed that the quality of undergraduate education has declined over the past five years. Only 28 per cent disagreed. Those are worrying figures. It’s no surprise that they prompted headlines.
The survey sponsor, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (a professor unions’ group), was quick to blame a lack of government funding for the perceived drop in quality.
“Universities are straining to accommodate the new students with inadequate resources, and the cracks are beginning to show,” OCUFA president Constance Adamson said in a release.
But wait a minute. Are the resources really inadequate?
Province increases university funding despite deficit
Newfoundland and Labrador will soon take the crown as the cheapest place to study, despite a deficit budget that includes job cuts and that will cause provincial net debt to rise by $1-billion to $8.5-billion by March 2013.
Tuesday’s budget includes $44 million for Memorial University and College of the North Atlantic to prevent them from raising tuition fees, which averaged $2,649 in the fall of 2011.
The province will soon have the lowest fees in Canada. Nationwide, university fees averaged $5,366 in 2011, according to Statistics Canada.
Presidents and student groups complain
University presidents and student groups in Nova Scotia are angry about a new three-year funding agreement that includes a three per cent funding cut and a three per cent tuition rise, which is roughly equivalent to annual inflation.
After a four per cent cut last year, plus inflation, there is now a $75-million hole in budgets system-wide, John Harker, chairman of the Council of Nova Scotia University Presidents and president of Cape Breton University told the Chronicle Herald.
The Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students called the agreement “disappointing.” In a release, chair Maxime Audet said this: “tuition fee increases coupled with reductions in government funding means students in Nova Scotia will be paying more and getting less.”
Parents are expected to pay. But what if they can’t or won’t?
University of New Brunswick student Ben Whitney has a $5,000 hole in his budget this year thanks to the re-introduction of the parental contribution requirement for student loan funding in that province. He was loaned $8,000 last year, before the change. This year, the third-year student got just $3,000 because of what his parents—a middle manager and a secretary—took home last year from work. The 20-year-old’s parents are expected to make-up the difference. It’s money that Whitney says his parents don’t have this year.
But the issue of parental contributions, which he’s taken up with verve, means a lot more to him than sudden penury. “It’s also a matter of principle,” says Whitney. “As an adult, I shouldn’t have to depend on my parents until I’m 22,” he says. “It’s also a matter of pride to have to call my parents and ask, can you send me $20 so I can buy a bottle of shampoo?” he says. But he can’t afford such luxuries otherwise, even with a part-time job.
Academics debate whether to accept Chinese cash
When he first heard from a university administrator about a new Confucius Institute (CI) proposed at the University of Manitoba, Asian Studies professor Terry Russell asked for a meeting with the dean in charge. At that meeting, he asked her to carefully consider who was offering to pay for it. The money would come from the Hanban, an arm of the Chinese government that’s chaired by the minister of education. That’s the same government, as Russell put it, that jailed Nobel-prize winner Liu Xiaobo for 11 years, the same government who took the University of Calgary to task after it gave the Dalai Lama an honourary degree, and the same government that employs 50,000 citizens to scour the Internet in search of dissent. Russell says that Canadian universities shouldn’t take money from an education ministry that does such things.
Less than six months later, the university has announced that it will join a short-but-growing list of institutions that have decided against taking Chinese government money to set up CIs on campus. The university’s spokesman, John Danakas, says that “overtures were made” by Confucius Institutes earlier this year, but that “conversations have ended… for logistical reasons.” Pennsylvania State University, the University of British Columbia and the Republic of India, have also decided against CIs on campus.
But in the same month that Manitoba declined funding from China, the University of Regina and Brock University both inaugurated their new Confucius Institutes, bringing the total number at Canadian post-secondary schools to eight. More than 320 exist worldwide. China says that the funding of CIs—$150,000 initially and up to $200,000 per year after that— is meant to promote cultural understanding. But along with the money, schools, including Brock, have signed constitutions that says that “institute activities must … respect cultural customs, and shall not contravene concerning laws and regulations in Canada and China.”
Quite what that means is open to interpretation.
Russell says that means employees will feel dissuaded from mentioning Taiwan, Tibet independence, Falun Gong, or the Tiananmen Square massacre. If that’s true, the result could be an unrealistically positive view of China among the students who pass through the free language and history courses that they offer on Canadian campuses. He goes even further than that. “They’re nothing more than a propaganda and public relations exercise within the legitimizing framework of a university,” he says.
Sheila Young, Director of Brock International, takes the opposite view of their new CI. There isn’t any propaganda, she argues, but instead a fantastic opportunity for academic exchange with the world’s next superpower. “We’re in complete control of the curriculum and always have been, always will be,” says Young. The Chinese government offered to provide textbooks to them during at the Confucius Institutes Conference that she and other administrators attended in Beijing in December, but Brock has not decided which materials it will use. “Nothing has been shipped to us, where they said, ‘here these are prescribed texts,’” says Young.
Young stresses that the CI will allow them to offer many more Mandarin courses than they would be able to otherwise, plus teacher-training certification and possibly Chinese history and political science courses in the future. “There are a lot of cutbacks in the economy we’re in now,” says Young. “So the idea of getting some funding to teach in an area that hasn’t been taught [in] before is appealing.”
Most university funding doesn’t come from students
In South Korea, post-secondary students are demanding that the government pay a bigger share of the bill for higher education. Their government spends around $7,000 per student per year, while students pay an average of $8,000 in tuition fees. The protesters think the government should bring funding in line with the OECD-average spending — $10,000 per pupil in 2006-07.
That’s a modest request, considering how much Canadian governments spend. On average, it was over $20,000 per student in 2007, making our universities the second-most publicly-funded in the 31-member OECD. Funding per student was just behind Switzerland (the highest in the world), a third ahead of the U.S. and more than double the rich-country average. (For more, see page 237 of this OECD report.)
The debate about how costs should be split isn’t new to Canadians. There have always people who believe post-secondary education is a public good, so the state should foot the entire tab for everyone. On the other extreme, there have always been people who argue that a degree primarily benefits the person who takes it, so that person should cover most of the costs.
But do students realize how little of universities’ total budgets are funded by tuition?
Statistics Canada data show that nationwide tuition fees make up roughly 20 per cent of universities’ revenue, while federal and provincial transfers make up 55 per cent.
So the next time you pay that $5,000 tuition bill, consider that the taxpayers likely kicked in around $20,000 toward the school’s budget. Then ask yourself: Is this really such a bad deal?
Here are the numbers from 2009.
|Source: Statistics Canada||Canada||N.L.||P.E.I.||N.S.||N.B.|
|Own source revenue||44.8||31.9||47.2||57.1||47.0|
|Sales of goods and services||34.4||26.7||41.1||47.4||36.1|
|Other sales of goods and services||13.9||12.8||17.9||17.5||9.0|
|Other own-source revenue||7.4||4.5||4.7||6.6||7.3|
Province says plan will make paying tuition more predictable
New Brunswick’s public universities will move to a four-year funding model, the province announced on Friday. Although the plan is still in development, Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Martine Coloumbe says the plan will allow universities to communicate a long term tuition schedule. “This commitment to develop a four-year funding model will provide public universities with a predictable funding base to plan their activities over a longer period of time,” he said. Dennis Cochrane, president of St Thomas University, says he wants to see a broader arrangement reached with the government that goes beyond funding models. “I think everyone recognizes there are so many things in the post-secondary education area that are changing,” he told CBC. Details for the plan will be released with the budget in March.
Not everything can be a priority. By definition.
Nova Scotia teachers have a clever new campaign (sorry, “movement”) called Save Grade 2 which aims to convince the provincial government — cash-strapped due to naughty previous government, they say — from cutting funding for public education.
The clever part is where they say that expected cuts will result in choices that any right-minded citizen could not endure — like cutting a whole grade level from the system. Not that Grade 2 is actually in jeopardy, but the point is that educators should not have to face these “impossible choices.”
Fair enough. But couldn’t just about every government-funded program and service say something similar? Education, an earnest fellow in the video there tells us, should be a “top priority,” but on top of what? Health care? The Court System? Fire departments? Couldn’t those groups put up similar sites saying that they too are too important to mess with? Save the Emergency Room! Save Justice! Save Your House! Aren’t these all impossible choices?
I have no problem when people with vested interests argue that what they do is important and shouldn’t be cut. But when they do, they should have the guts to say what should be cut. If you don’t want to see public education cut, what do you want? Higher taxes? On what? Cuts somewhere else? Where? Or do you think we have the money after all? Explain.
Roger Martin over at The Walrus (which, interestingly enough has its own Save the Walrus campaign) recently argued that education had been neglected because, in effect, we have been spending too much on health care. Good for him. I hope the folks at Save Grade 2 can muster the same level of courage.
The ‘Big 5′ debate in review
When the presidents of what have been named the “Big 5” schools — the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, McGill University, University of Alberta and Université de Montréal — met via video conference with Maclean’s Paul Wells this summer, what they had to say was sure to ignite some buzz in the academic sphere.
Though some smaller schools are up in arms about the thought of losing their place in competitive Canadian research, as the ‘Big 5′ presidents propose, perhaps by creating these research-intensive graduate schools, a new focus on undergraduate learning that would directly benefit students is a worthwhile flipside.
Most recently, a book funded by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, Academic Transformation: The Forces Reshaping Higher Education argues that undergraduate education is in need of an overhaul. The authors argue several points, the concept of focusing on teaching and not research for undergraduate faculty needs to become the new norm ties into the ‘Big 5’ proposal.
Despite the fact no one has actually asked the students what their take is, it’s fairly easy to say students would not be opposed to smaller class sizes, where professors are accessible and solely focused on their learning. After all, it’s their tuition dollars that go towards funding these research-based programs and whose enrollment these schools set up in booths in high school gymnasiums to obtain.
Already boasting a combined 40 per cent of the country’s research funding, the presidents of the ‘Big 5′ schools spelled out their dissatisfaction with the current state of universities in Canada.
Having to spread funding and resources to educate the masses — a disproportionate number of undergraduate students to graduate researchers — these presidents argued for a change of focus at these ‘top’ schools, enrolling fewer undergraduates and transforming these institutions into primarily graduate research-based schools.
Their reasoning being that in order to “attract the world’s best scholars” and pump out graduates who can match or best their world colleagues, a greater focus needs to be paid to these programs and leave the undergraduate population to the smaller schools.
“If you strongly support the very highest forms of international peer review,” said Indira Samarasekera president of the University of Alberta, in the article, “and you drive toward excellence, and you create pools of funding where people can compete at an international standard, you will then encourage and enable certain institutions to differentially excel.”
Now almost five months later and the merits of the proposal for higher education institutions as set out by the schools’ presidents is still being debated.
In August, the smaller schools retorted in a second Maclean’s article, including the University of Waterloo, Lakehead University, Laurentian and the University of Guelph, who collectively argued their graduate research programs, many producing high-caliber researchers, should not be designated to instruct solely undergraduates.
While the ‘Big 5’ argue that Canadian research is not measuring up, the smaller schools have said that’s a reflection of the large programs and they’ve had their chance to prove their worth. “They had their opportunities to clearly demonstrate that they can make a difference,” said Frederick Filbert, president of Lakehead University.
Other schools responded through other media outlets. Roseann Runte, president of Carleton University wrote an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, arguing that differentiating schools as proposed squanders competition and collaboration.
“Canada needs to create an environment in our universities, our cities, our provinces that will support and generate such innovation. This will not happen by closing the door to potential players or instituting an intellectual caste system,” she wrote.
Since then provincial governments, bloggers and other media outlets have chimed in on what is to become of higher education. When Katie Engelhart talked to Canada’s provincial education ministers many expressed the fact that differentiated schools already exist, as it is not the intention for all universities to be “top researchers.” But none are eager to openly support the ‘Big 5’ proposal.
It seems imperative that all these voices, both larger and smaller schools along with governments and the students attending Canadian universities each have role to play in the decision. Regardless, as with most politics, a change won’t happen overnight.
- photo by dcJohn
Could California be a model for Canadian research policy?
For all the erudition and scholarship that goes on at Canadian campuses, ambition is what really drives most colleges and universities. Colleges want to be small universities. Small universities want to be big universities. And big universities want to be Harvard.
Evidence of this aspiration is everywhere. In Alberta, a pair of community colleges just became universities. The same thing happened last year in British Columbia. In Ontario, Brock University in St. Catharines has embarked on an aggressive marketing campaign to rebrand itself from small regional university to higher-status research centre. And then there’s the recent furor created by the aspirations of five of Canada’s biggest universities.
In an exclusive interview with Maclean’s in August, the presidents of the University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, University of Toronto, McGill University and Université de Montréal outlined a controversial proposal to realign national post-secondary funding. Under the Big Five plan, a few schools would emphasize high-level research while the remaining schools would focus primarily on undergraduate education. That would allow a more efficient distribution of scarce research funding, vault the Big Five closer to their international peers, and tackle the issue of Canada’s underperformance in producing world-class university research.
It’s clearly an ambitious plan, as far as the Big Five are concerned. But is limiting the ambition of every other college and university the best plan for Canada? And what would such a plan look like?
You have to look elsewhere for an example. In the U.S., many states set out explicit expectations for all public post-secondary institutions, and California’s Master Plan for Higher Education, created in 1960, is one of the best known.
At the top of the state hierarchy is the University of California, which boasts many of the world’s most famous campuses, including Berkeley and UCLA. Its nine institutions receive the bulk of research funding, focus heavily on graduate students, and are the only public universities in California allowed to grant Ph.D.s. UC accepts the top 12 per cent of all state high school graduates. Next come 23 California State campuses. Cal States are primarily undergraduate institutions. Professors teach twice as many classes as their peers at UC and do much less research. The top third of California high school graduates are guaranteed a place in the Cal State system. Finally, more than 100 state community colleges act as feeders for Cal State. They are required to offer a spot for every high school graduate in California. “The two key aspects of the master plan are a clear differentiation of which students go where, as well as which schools do what,” says Todd Greenspan, director of academic planning at the University of California office of the president. “Everyone knows their place.”