With the Ontario election resulting in a Liberal minority government — one seat short of a majority — coupled with an uncertain economy, many questions remain regarding the Liberal government’s policy directions for higher education, and their impact on the university sector.
The Liberal party platform promised a 30% tuition fee rebate to undergraduate students from households earning $160,000 or less, funding 60,000 new spaces at Ontario’s universities and colleges by 2015-16, and the creation of three “new, leading-edge undergraduate campuses” in Milton, Barrie and Brampton. No money was allocated to increase per-student funding — currently the lowest in Canada — which is critical for quality enhancements. The Ontario Liberal Party also committed to following through on the Drummond Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Service, led by former TD economist Dan Drummond. While this commission has not yet reported, it is likely that its recommendations will have some implication for the broader public sector, including universities. During the election, OCUFA provided an analysis of the Liberal (and other parties’) platforms, which can be accessed here.
In a speech prior to the election, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, John Milloy, also spoke of a number of initiatives the government would be interested in pursuing, including enhancing the accountability of universities, altering the funding formula so it was less linked to enrolment growth, and using policy levers to encourage universities to enhance their areas of “strength”. Specifically, he indicated the government would look at:
“negotiating individual mandate and enrolment agreements as a first step to designing a framework of how we want the system to evolve based on the principles of quality, sustainability and most important – the best interests of students.”
“focusing our resources on what each institution does best so that collectively they offer the maximum choice, flexibility and quality experience to Ontario students” , although also stating that “every college and university should be able to offer a full range of core programming, particularly at the undergraduate and entry level… And there is no question that we need to see the continued growth of graduate studies as well as a strong research agenda within both the college and university sectors.”
“negotiating a new round of multi-year accountability agreements with each college and university. These agreements will establish baselines and targets for each institution in key areas related to the goals of this new strategy, such as teaching excellence, and tie future funding to their achievement.”
“modernizing of our funding formula away from one that simply rewards growth at all costs, to one that makes sure that we are achieving our goals in areas like teaching, overall quality and helping institutions fulfill long-term plans and mandates.”
This is an ambitious – and in some cases, problematic – policy agenda, so it will be interesting to see how it is implemented in co-operation with the other parties in a minority government.