MTCU releases report of the University Funding Model Review

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Today, the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU) released the final report of the Ontario University Funding Model Review. The full report and report summary can be downloaded here.

Overall, the report is an interesting and comprehensive summary of the consultations. It includes some promising areas of policy development – such as better data on higher education in Ontario – while also proposing other policy directions that would be harmful to the province’s universities, like performance-based funding. The document also tends to present the imbalanced view that the financial challenges facing the sector are the result of rising costs, rather than the Government of Ontario’s persistent under-funding of universities.

The report stops short of offering specific recommendations. Instead, it offers what Executive Lead Sue Herbert calls “strategic directions.” Key among these directions is the idea that MTCU adopt an “outcomes-based lens” for all of its investments in the university sector. This does not necessarily mean funding would be tied to performance metrics—instead, the government is advised to carefully design its objectives and desired outcomes from universities, and fund according to these sector goals. Nevertheless, performance-based funding is highlighted as a direction that should be pursued in the long-term. Based on the preponderance of existing evidence, OCUFA will continue to assert that performance funding is an ineffective mechanism for improving educational quality. In fact, it may actually harm students’ learning experience. Any system of funding that divides universities into winners and losers would have severe consequences for faculty and students at institutions lumped into the latter category.

The report also suggests that coherent, centralized, and accessible data on Ontario’s higher education system is needed to inform discussions around quality improvement, and to increase accountability and transparency to stakeholders and the public. OCUFA endorses this proposal, as it is consistent with one of our key recommendations to the Review.  However, the new data system should not be created to facilitate a performance funding regime. We welcome any opportunity to work with government to create a data system that is open, robust, and operated in collaboration with sector stakeholders.

Other encouraging aspects of the report include recognition of sector-wide agreement that funding should be fair and equitable to protect against variation in quality across institutions, as well as predictable and stable to facilitate long-term planning. The paper also recognizes that throughout the consultation process the Review team heard that good jobs on university campuses contribute to a high-quality student experience.

Throughout the consultation process, stakeholders were told that the Review would only look at the funding model itself, and broader questions of funding levels, tuition fees, and institutional expenditure would not be addressed. It is therefore disappointing that the Review dedicates so much space to predictable administrator concerns about the costs of collective bargaining, without acknowledging Ontario’s woefully low levels of per-student public funding. Both of these issues were deemed out of scope at the outset, but it appears one was more out of scope than the other.

The paper also makes a factual error in suggesting that tenure and progress-through-the-ranks (PTR) are a unique compensation feature of universities. Many sectors use PTR systems, and tenure-like provisions exist in other public services, not the least of which is the K-12 education sector.

OCUFA will be conducting a thorough review of the report over the coming weeks, and will make a comprehensive analysis available to our members and to government. We anticipate completing this project in early 2016.

Going forward, OCUFA’s understanding is that MTCU staff will now be tasked with considering the report’s strategic directions, developing a new funding model, and implementing it over the coming years. Our expectation is that this work will continue to embrace a spirit of consultation and collaboration, and that sector stakeholders will be given a central role in the development of a new funding model. OCUFA plans to contribute to this process at every opportunity, and looks forward to continued engagement with the government on this important project.

The Review, which concludes with the release of this report, was intended to examine potential changes to the university funding model in Ontario, to serve four broad government goals:

  • Enhancing quality and improving the overall student experience;
  • Supporting the existing differentiation process;
  • Addressing financial sustainability; and
  • Increasing transparency and accountability.

OCUFA was an active participant in the consultations, attending a variety of symposia, briefings, and one-on-one meetings with Sue Herbert. To frame the conversation from a faculty perspective, we released The Funding Formula Review Handbook. We also made a formal written submission to the Review, outlining the need to build upon existing strengths while addressing weaknesses as we modernize the funding model.

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