The Diminishing Quality of Ontario’s Universities: Can the System be Fixed?
Harvey P. Weingarten
President, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario
October 18 2011
An answer to this question requires a short excursion into the world of how Canada finances its postsecondary institutions. Consider this brief primer on university budgeting.
For some, the blame lies at the feet of government for failing to provide colleges and universities with greater funding. To be fair, the Ontario government has directed more money to the postsecondary sector, and these funds – targeted largely to growth and financial aid – have had real impact.
Continue with the status quo? We can’t. The consequences of a lower quality system are too severe and the benefits of a higher quality system to both the individual and society are simply too desirable. We must acknowledge, though, that the ways we managed our public higher education systems in the past are no longer particularly effective. Change is needed — changes in the ways governments manage, intervene and fund the system and changes in the ways that institutions manage themselves, allocate their resources and are held accountable.
- Government incentives and policies to steer the system, not to micromanage the institutions.
- Funding for achievement of outcomes, not on inputs.
- Clear and transparent accountability mechanisms for monitoring and rewarding performance.
- Breaking down the silos between different types of postsecondary institutions in the system.
- And finally, introduction of a policy of greater differentiation of institutions within the system.
It certainly means more than simply the fact that institutions are different.
“…greater differentiation of Ontario’s university sector is one of the most powerful levers available, especially in times of resource constraints, to achieve public goals of greater quality, competitiveness [and] accountability…”
We should be optimistic about our ability to achieve that goal. Many of the elements are in place. We have good institutions and a willing government. We understand why quality is so important. We have a history of success. We acknowledge that we have a problem.