Critics, students slam Ontario’s performance-based funding plan for post-secondary education

by | Dec 11, 2020 | News

The Ontario government plans to apply a performance-based funding model to colleges and universities within two years, a proposal that has alarmed student groups, teachers’ unions and opposition leaders.

“Our government believes in making institutions accountable for student success,” Ross Romano, minister of colleges and universities, said in a news release Nov. 26.

The ministry argued under the current funding model students are unable to find jobs after graduation. Under the new plan, funding will depend on 10 metrics that consider the employment success of graduates.

Romano said it will force institutions to be “more efficient and specialized,” tying 60 per cent of all college and university funding to the new metrics.

“The new agreements will also encourage transparency and accountability by ensuring that the spending of public dollars results in positive economic outcomes for Ontario,” he said.

Romano did not respond to an Et Cetera request for an interview.

Gyllian Phillips, an associate professor of English at Nipissing University in North Bay, called the government’s proposal “absolutely misguided” and said research shows post-secondary education does, in fact, prepare students for the workplace.

Colleges Ontario said in its last report on graduation rates that 86 per cent of college graduates in the province find employment within six months.

Phillips said the metric which bases funding on graduation employment includes “factors that are completely outside of university control.”

For example, institutions in stronger job markets such as Toronto could see higher success rates while a college elsewhere in Ontario may have lower-income graduates resulting in the campus receiving less cash.

“Ontario has been underfunding its universities for over a decade now, and consequently, they’re already really strapped,” Phillips added.

The Canadian Federation of Students called the plan reckless.

“As the pandemic leaves students facing an unrecognizable job market, it is more reckless than ever to move towards a plan that ties post-secondary to indicators like post-graduation employment,” Kayla Weiler, the federation’s Ontario representative, said.

The CFS cited a recent survey from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations that found a majority of faculty and students believe the shift to online learning prompted by the coronavirus pandemic has caused a decline in education quality.

CFS argued in a Nov. 30 statement that more funding from the province would provide a buffer for students struggling during the pandemic, but performance-based funding “continues to weaken a system that is already hurting students.”

The government said the performance-based system would not come into effect for two years due to challenges brought on by COVID-19.

Chris Glover, the NDP MPP from Spadina-Fort York, is wary of Ford’s plan to tie funding to graduation rates, fearing it is a way to control what schools teach.

Experimental learning outcomes, skills and competencies, institutional focus and graduation rates will join employment success under the six-piece “skills and job outcomes” category.

Research funding and capacity, industry-funded research, local community impact of the institution and the economic impact of a given college or university will also be at play in the four metrics classified as “economic and community impact.”

New Democratic Party post-secondary critic Chris Glover said the government’s plan is “a way for politicians to control what and how universities teach, and dramatically slash the funding of schools that resist Ford’s directives.”

The reputation of Ontario institutions will suffer on the international stage as students bear the consequences, he said.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner was also unimpressed.

“Emerging new careers makes it hard to predict future job markets and Ford’s plan will likely hurt our economy by discouraging post-secondary innovation,” the Guelph MPP said in a statement sent from his office to Et Cetera.

“The premier is trying to impose guaranteed outcomes in an area that is increasingly unpredictable,” Schreiner said. “At the same time, we may see less importance being given to degrees in the humanities and arts.

“That would be a terrible loss for our province,” he said.