The United Conservative Party’s change in post-secondary funding to an outcomes-based model, announced on Jan. 20, 2020, has left institutions like MacEwan University in the lurch. Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides told CBC that starting April 1, 15 per cent of the operational funding that each post-secondary institution in Alberta receives for the 2020-21 academic year will be tied to approximately 20 yet to be decided targets. The percentage of funding dictated by the new policy will increase to 40 per cent by the 2022-23 academic year.
Cole Baker, the Vice-President External of the Students’ Association of MacEwan University (SAMU), is hesitant to think that this policy will increase the quality of education for students or benefit Alberta in the long term. “Instead of focusing on learning outcomes this policy is focused more on the labour market outcome, and so we can’t predict the labour market as an institution,” said Baker.
Baker said that she is concerned that the attempt to quantify the benefits of programs which contain highly transferable skills, like fine arts or communications, may devalue them. These programs cannot be translated into post-graduation financial outcomes in the same way that data-driven STEM programs can. This could lead to programs in MacEwan being altered in order to fit the criteria of the chosen metrics. “I personally believe that (the new policy) has the potential to encroach on institutional autonomy,” said Baker.
The ‘student-first’ philosophy of MacEwan is in direct conflict with the anchoring ideas behind the policies, which Baker believes may lead to Albertan students being reduced to metrics. “At MacEwan, you’re more than just a number,” said Baker.
However, all MacEwan University and SAMU can do right now is speculate. This policy has yet to be clearly defined. According to the Calgary Herald, “26 publicly funded institutions will get money based on up to 20 different measures, which will be weighted differently depending on the school.” With the 2019 across-the-board funding cuts made to all Alberta post-secondary institutions still fresh in MacEwan’s mind, there is still anxiety surrounding this new policy. “There are still a lot of unanswered questions and there is still a lot to understand,” said Baker.
The only silver lining to the new funding model is transparency, something that was lacking in previous provincial governments. “We’re happy to see (the model) is transparent, but we’re very concerned by this direction,” said Baker. Previously, according to Baker, funding was delivered in a lump sum, and the method in which the amount was chosen for each institution was lost in the bureaucratic bog.
Baker says that SAMU and MacEwan University are still in talks with the provincial government to clarify the changes and attempt to ensure that education is not affected. “We’re fighting for you,” said Baker.
This austere policy echoes others that have been created by Jason Kenney’s government, all of which have been in attempt to balance the budget. Despite these efforts, according to Reuters, Alberta is looking at an $8.7 billion deficit for the 2019-20 year, up $2 billion from 2018-19.
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