Today the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development released an update on the redesign of the university funding formula together with an update on the next round of Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs) to be negotiated in 2017. The Ministry also announced a two-year extension to the existing cap on tuition fees while it consults with postsecondary institutions and students.
Under the tuition framework extension, the government will maintain its current policy of capping average tuition fee increases at a maximum of three per cent per year for the next two years. OCUFA is encouraged that the Ministry has chosen to consult with students on changes to the tuition fee framework, and has supported the government’s improvements to the Ontario Student Assistant Program designed to address affordability concerns for students from low and middle income families. We have nonetheless expressed concerns about rising tuition fees and stagnating levels of public funding. Accessible postsecondary education is important to ensuring that all qualified and interested students are able to attain a high quality postsecondary education regardless of financial means.
With the updated funding formula, the government will be shifting focus from growth to “high-quality student outcomes.” It has stated that the new formula will provide funding protection for enrolment declines, but will not necessarily provide funding for enrolment growth. Additionally, the new formula will provide specific funding to support differentiation for each institution.
OCUFA is pleased that the government will provide funding protection for enrolment declines, but has particular concerns about the government’s intent to focus on “accountable outcomes” as part of its plan to fund differentiation.
As has been communicated previously, OCUFA is opposed to the expansion of punitive performance based funding in any new funding model. With performance funding, a portion of the government’s funding for individual institutions would be dependent on the institution’s ability to meet a set of targets. Efforts to assess performance on something as complex as the quality of student outcomes often fall back to using the most accessible measurement criteria available, even when these criteria do not capture quality in any meaningful way. There is a real danger associated with allocating funding in this way.
Given the many questions, concerns, and lack of detail about how the differentiation portion of the new funding model would be implemented and accountable outcomes measured, OCUFA has recommended that the phase-in of this portion of the new funding model be delayed until the important work of clarifying its goals and implementation is completed.
Negotiation of the next round of SMAs will be led by Bonnie Patterson, former President of the Council of Ontario Universities and Trent University, who will serve as the government’s representative in negotiations with universities. Further details of the SMA negotiation process have yet to be announced.
In the new year, the Ministry will be organizing a meeting with universities and colleges to provide more details on allocation mechanisms, reporting tools, templates, and timelines for the roll out of the new funding formula. As these details become available, OCUFA will provide additional information and a more comprehensive analysis of the impact that these changes will have on faculty and the quality of education in Ontario’s universities.