Universities, colleges hammer out deal on what programs they can expand – by Louise Brown (Toronto Star – August 8, 2014)

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Read previous column by Stan Sudol about why Ontario should merge all post-secondary mining education programs at Sudbury’s Laurentian University: http://bit.ly/1r597Q9

For the first time, Ontario has hammered out deals with each of its 44 colleges and universities that force them to bite the bullet and put in writing which 10 programs they consider their strongest, and which five — and only five — they hope to expand.

These Strategic Mandate Agreements, made public Thursday after months of closed-door haggling between institutions and Queen’s Park — “We need money for more PhDs”; “Let us expand our business program” — are a bid to end duplication and create a more specialized system.

They required the province’s fiercely independent campuses to answer a list of government questions, from how they plan to help more grads get work to how they nurture student entrepreneurs, how they will reach out to more aboriginal and disabled students, how easy they make it for students to switch schools.

As the first step to more differentiation, the agreements show the province will spread funding for grad students among a smaller group of universities than before, with the University of Toronto winning some 580 new spots, but many getting fewer than they had hoped and York University not being funded for more at all.

The deals are more than just a first step toward systems like those in Alberta or British Columbia, where each school must focus on what it’s best at and not try to be all things to all students.

They mark a new power balance between Ontario and its historically autonomous campuses; a new “co-management” relationship in which the Ivory Tower must answer to a fiscally constrained government in unprecedented detail.

How much the province plans to link those answers to funding is not yet clear, but players on both sides admit funding can be used as a “lever” to get schools to toe the line.

Yet so far, the exercise is being hailed as a move towards transparency and accountability, rather than meddling or micro-managing.

“These aren’t things we’re dictating; we want to exercise stewardship over post-secondary system,” said MPP Reza Moridi, Ontario’s minister of training, colleges and universities, who noted the province has just come through a decade of record expansion in higher learning where funding grew by 83 per cent and 170,000 more students arrived on campus.

In contrast, post-secondary funding will rise just 1 per cent per year over the next three years.

“We cannot expand in the same way now given the reality of the day, so we have to work together to make sure the money we spend will benefit students. The bottom line is quality of education,” Moridi said, adding that while the system may not keep growing in breadth, “it can still grow in depth, in the quality of the disciplines.”

York president Mamdouh Shoukri welcomes the new deal as a “step forward” in coordinating programs across the system in which government makes a “significant investment,” and sees it as a chance to state publicly, with government endorsement, York’s commitment to social justice, its leadership role in French-language education and credit-transfer deals with other schools, and its intention to grow, especially in science and engineering.

For the original site of this article, click here: http://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2014/08/07/universities_colleges_hammer_out_deal_on_what_programs_they_can_expand.html