When Ontario began to expand its higher education system in the mid-1960s, it made an important choice: to provide public funding to universities on the basis of a formula. Many jurisdictions, in Canada and beyond, do not use such formulae in their higher education systems. But there are clear advantages to such an arrangement. A funding formula supports the distribution of funding in a predictable, equitable way, that can be easily understood by those who study and work within our universities.
Nevertheless, no formula can remain functional forever, especially as the world changes and our expectations of universities shift. For this reason, OCUFA welcomes the University Funding Formula Review, initiated by the Government of Ontario in early 2015. We particularly welcome the opportunity to provide feedback into this process on behalf of the province’s professors and academic librarians.
The university funding formula is deeply important to the success and vitality of Ontario’s universities. It cannot therefore be treated as a laboratory to play with the latest fads in university finance. A measured and responsible approach to reforming the university funding formula should retain its greatest strengths, while correcting its flaws. The Government of Ontario, as the steward of the university sector, has the important task of working with the sector to identify these weaknesses and strengths, and rejecting harmful policy proposals masquerading as innovations.
This submission makes the case that the basic mechanic of the existing formula is sound, but needs to be updated and streamlined. It is also important to consider how the existing formula does not serve some universities – such as those in Northern Ontario – and how changes can be made to address these challenges.
We also argue that performance funding – currently a cause célèbre south of the border, chiefly among those who do not actually work in universities – is not the right approach for Ontario. There is no evidence that performance funding improves student outcomes, but there is growing evidence that it actually has a variety of negative effects. It also violates numerous principles outlined by the University Funding Formula Review team, while cutting against beneficial and collaborative processes for improving quality.
Finally, we suggest that the goals of transparency, accountability, and quality are best served by a new higher education data system. Such a system would be created and run collaboratively by the sector, with the goal of fueling meaningful policy discussions through the provision of timely and useful data.
Once again, OCUFA appreciates the opportunity to provide input into the University Funding Formula Review. We look forward to working with the government to build a university system that promotes quality while protecting the important principles that have allowed our institutions to be so successful.