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On September 19, 2000 the Ontario Government announced the formation of the “Investing in Students Taskforce”. 1 The Government released the Taskforce’s Report on March 20, 2001. As CUPE members in the University sector, we must be ready to take on this government’s latest round of privatization of Ontario Universities.

The Taskforce called for proposals to “increase administrative effectiveness and efficiencies” by examining “best practices in administrative operations and related expenditures in Ontario and other jurisdictions.” 2 The Ministry is on record as “working with institutions to expand capacity through more flexible use of existing facilities.” 3

A very narrow view of efficiency lies beneath these optimistic phrases. The Ontario government is promoting what corporations consider to be the “best” way to administer Universities.

The Taskforce had a mandate to accept proposals that foster private-public partnerships, promote “fundamental change” in administration, establish ways to measure efficiency, save money, avoid costs and reduce red tape. The Taskforce’s invitation also states that the government will consider proposals proposing the disposition (selling) of assets. Through this taskforce, the government is looking for ways to privatize University services.

What does the Ministry mean by administration? In their words, administrative operations can include “student financial aid administration; facilities planning, maintenance and utilisation; purchasing; human resources; information technology, including data collection and web-based services; retail operations and ancillary services; registration processes and practices; counselling services; finance and reporting.” 4

CUPE members work in these jobs but the Taskforce was not interested in hearing our views. Our efforts to communicate with the Taskforce went unanswered. This is not surprising. The Harris government of Ontario is introducing “fundamental change” in the post-secondary education system because corporate investors want in on the massive education “industry” in Ontario. All in the name of profit.

We’ve seen the SuperBuild Fund which bring public-private partnerships into the Universities. The private university bill has been passed in the Ontario Legislature. We know Bill 132 was introduced in the interests of private profits, not the public good.

We’ve heard our own employers’ organization, the Council of Ontario Universities (COU), make a commitment to conduct an “annual evaluation of whether to keep or to contract-out ancillary operations”. 5 Through the winter, the COU took the lead on coordinating University submissions to the Investing in Students Taskforce through nine working groups.

For CUPE members, the COU’s attempt to appear “innovative, responsive, efficient and accountable” under these conditions threatens public post-secondary education in Ontario. Our rights, and the rights of students and the wider community are undermined as public universities become increasingly privatized, and as private universities open in an anti-union environment.

 

Investing in Students Taskforce: The Report At First Glance

 

Portals and Pathways: A Review of Postsecondary Education in Ontario” (February 2001) released by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, March 20, 2001

The Taskforce, announced on September 19, 2000, was given the responsibility of examining current college and university administrative operations “to ensure accessibility, accountability and affordability in the postsecondary sector.” (Letter from Taskforce to the Minister)

Below, please find a brief summary of key recommendations of interest to CUPE members. Although the report is long (160 pages), it is very general. If gives a sense of the possible future shape of restructuring in PSE. We need to, however, follow this up by looking at the proposals submitted by individual employers. Locals might wish to form committees to do this.

It is important that CUPE follow the issue of “benchmarking” carefully as these recommendations are implemented. Benchmarking refers to a process of standardization of the processes involved in the production of goods and services. International standards organizations continue to facilitate the study of the way we work, in order to increase productivity. This may mean more contracting out and privatization, as well as the intensification of the working day, and efforts to ‘flexibilize’ the labour force.

It is likely that the Ontario government will establish a Committee to review benchmarking in postsecondary education that will not include representatives from labour. This is a serious issue for CUPE members.

There are no recommendations here that come from labour, or even recognise the University as a workplace. University workers are made quite invisible in this Taskforce’s report.

 

Meeting the Needs of Students

  • sounds good, but they might as well have said “customers”, because that is the business model driving this Report.

     

     

    Student funding:

  • Students need tuition fees decreases and a decent scholarship program instead of credit-counselling.

     

     

    E-Learning: 24/7

  • Will these tutorial and other services be delivered by contingent workers or unionized, decently paid workers with good working conditions?

     

     

    Shared services:

     

    Eg. COU Proposal: Pooling assets of employee pension plans across the province

  • Will rationalizing the use of resources mean contracting-out and further privatization?

     

     

    Transformation Incentive Fund:

  • Meant to ensure (among two other priorities), the effective use of existing physical facilities and cost effective administration;
  • Institutions will meet benchmarks, or be denied funding;
  • No labour representatives on committee which will determine benchmarks and indicators.

 

1. Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, “New Taskforce to focus postsecondary resources on students” http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/postsec/task.html

2. Ministry of Training “Invitation for proposals to increase administrative effectiveness and efficiencies” Investing in Students Task Force http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/postsec/taskhme.html

3. Ministry of Training, “Backgrounder: Improving the Quality and Accessibility of Post-secondary Education and Training”

4. Ministry of Training, “Invitation for proposals”.

5. Council of Ontario Universities, Brief to the Ontario Legislature’s Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs 2000 Pre-Budget Consultations”, February 16, 2000.

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