Thursday, August 17, 2006

Post-secondary education - consultations and evaluations

The state of postsecondary education is always of keen interest to me - it's my livelihood, after all. As we get ready to head back to the classroom, there are a number of interesting tidbits and conundrums floating about the news cycle.

First is the federal government's post-secondary education and training consultation which Paul Wells recently tracked down. To add my two cents to his, the complete lack of direction to the feedback form is rather disconcerting. Perhaps a question or two to guide the discussion would be useful? Maybe something along the lines of "Should the Canadian government continue to fund international Canadian Studies centres and scholarships?" or "Should the Canadian government reinvest in the Millenium scholarships?" or "What do you think the Canadian government should do to improve the pathetic per capita amount it spends on postsecondary education?"

Of course, this is more likely a code consultation for "Do you think that the Canadian government should abandon its involvement in post-secondary education, and return to a pre-Massey commission interpretation of federalism?" But let's hope I'm wrong.

Alternatively, we could look at this as the Canadian government's tribute to Mike Myers' old SNL character Linda Richman from Coffee Talk: I'm getting all verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic. The Canadian federal government is neither committed to first-rate post-secondary education nor to consultation. Discuss.

There has also been a good amount of hubbub over the decision of eleven university presidents to boycott the annual Maclean's rankings of universities. Having attended or taught at universities ranked both high (Toronto, Mount Allison) and low (Ottawa) on past surveys, I think that the administrators are right to critique the methodology that has been used. It's remarable how even criteria like average class sizes or size of library holdings can be skewed to create a false portrait of a university. Past Macleans' surveys were interesting if you delved into the individual criteria and the raw data used to generate them, and I found the reputation categories to be quite informative. But as an agregate rating, there were major problems.

And with that, gentle readers, I should really get back to preparing my courses for this fall.

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At 12:05 pm, Anonymous Radical Centrist said...

My main question is why should the federal government be involved in post-secondary education since it's a provincial responsibility? Seriously - what can they do? If the provinces don't want to go along with anything the feds put forward, that's the end of that plan. Providing more money to the provinces for PSE isn't really an option either since there's no way to guarantee/enforce that they'll actually use it as intended.

At 12:23 pm, Blogger Matt said...

RC - That's a good question insofar as direct funding to the university system goes. A lot of the scholarship and granting programs provide grants directly to professors and students. Other funding to post-secondary education could be conceived of as being linked to fostering culture at the national level, as opposed to strictly "education" - which was part of the logic of the Massey Commission in the 1950s which recommended direct per capita funding to universities from the federal government. The provinces did block this direct funding, which is why it goes through their channels. And indeed, only Quebec raised any major objections to federal grants to university education in the 1950s.

The bigger question is whether it is wise/possible for the federal government to completely extricate itself from the role in funding post-secondary education that it has occupied since the 1950s without prompting a major financial crisis. I'm not certain that many universities in the Maritimes, for example, could survive the withdrawal of federal support.


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