“Any additional funding will be subject to three key factors – economic growth, the level of federal support and results to be achieved through greater accountability. We will work with our partners to set targets and benchmarks to do this.” Janet Ecker, Budget Speech, March 27, 2003.
Accountability is an important value for Conservatives in Ontario. Yet, on March 27, 2003, this government chose to ignore the basic tenets of accountability as defined by years of liberal democratic tradition in the parliamentary system. Instead of “Bringing Down the Budget” in front of the elected representatives in the legislature, the Conservative government took the unprecedented step of releasing its most important document at an auto parts factory in Southern Ontario. The Ontario Budget - Brought to you by Magna International.
This briefing note addresses three key problems in the 2003 Ontario Budget of concern to University workers. The bottom line is that the Ontario government intends to legislate benchmarking across the public sector; continue under-funding post-secondary education; entrench corporate interests in the student bursary program; re-announce “new” student spaces funded by public-private infrastructure partnerships, and neglect the over-crowding and over-work which exists across Ontario’s University campuses.
Performance Indicators and Benchmarking
This year’s Budget Documents came with a paper entitled, “Progress Through Partnership: Multi-year Base Funding in Ontario”. After years of complaints by organisations in the public sector and broader public sector (BPS) about haphazard, last-minute funding decisions, the Ontario government has responded. The Conservatives have agreed to provide funding details before the start of the new fiscal year.
The government will increase basic operating grants to colleges and universities by $75 million this year to deal with increased enrolment. The Budget commits to increase basic operating grants by $443 million over the 2001-02 level of funding. In addition, universities will receive $75 million in 2003-04, rising to $200 million in 2006-07. This money will not be considered part of the basic operating grant, but will be put into a separate “Quality Assurance Fund”.
These increases in the budget still do not come close to meeting the needs of the Universities in Ontario. As the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) demonstrates, an additional $275 million is needed by universities this year alone.1.
Moreover, what little funding the Conservative government has committed comes with strings attached. As the Budget document reports:
The government must shift the paradigm of debate away from measures of “more or less funding” to “better or worse outcomes.” While providing more stability for transfer partners, MYBF must also effect that change for the people of Ontario.2
The Government’s response has been to introduce multi-year base funding (MYBF) with hospitals, school boards, colleges and universities. It will commit to funding levels for three years in each of these sectors, but the government will require institutions to submit to a model of accountability based on performance indicators. Municipalities will be the next ones introduced to MYBF, but the government plans eventually to compel the entire public sector to participate. New legislation will be introduced in the coming year to “lay out common planning and reporting standards for BPS organizations involved in MYBF arrangements.”3
Funding will depend upon “empirical evidence” charting the number of people served and the price for each service. This will mean that different institutions, as well as different sectors, can be compared with one another. This sort of ‘statistical process control’ was the instrument through which ‘lean production’ was justified and used to discipline communities and unions in the manufacturing sector over the past twenty-years. Now the corporations, through the active role of the government, intend to entrench this model in the public sector as part of their drive towards privatization.
The problem with this approach has been demonstrated already in the post-secondary education sector. The Ontario government’s earlier performance-based funding strategy used highly ideological indicators, such as the percentage of graduates with jobs after graduation, to compel universities to compete with one another for extra funds. Now the government wants to deepen this strategy to an increasing percentage of operating budgets. The $75 million increase to universities promised in this year’s budget, will be placed in “Quality Assurance Funds”. Over the next year, the government will “work with post-secondary institutions, faculty and students to develop a performance measurement framework that will govern these Funds.”4
Through performance-based, competitive funding, the government uses numbers masquerading as science to restructure the university in the image of the corporation. The Conservatives say that they are trying to balance “efficiency and adequacy”, but we must look very carefully at what they mean by this. We must understand how they are defining “quality”. We ought to be very concerned with the kinds of benchmarks, or requirements upon which this government intends to base future funding of the public sector. What they consider ‘waste’, we consider gains made by workers for equality in service, and dignity in the workplace.
Private-Sector Sponsored Bursary
The Ontario Student Opportunity Trust Fund is a bursary for low-income students who meet certain requirements. Bursaries come from the interest on funds raised by the Universities and matched by the government of Ontario.5 The Budget committed $400 million to phase two of this Fund intended to “enable an estimated 400,000 students to attend college or university over the next decade.”6
As the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations points out, this fund amounts to a private sector sponsored student aid program, instead of the needs-based grants program that students actually require. OCUFA also points to the problems of allowing the private sector to direct resources to specific programs; the different abilities of institutions to fundraise; donor fatigue; and the uneven requirements imposed on students from one institution to another.7
The market-driven logic behind this program extends to the fact that it is the interest from investments of the fund that is distributed to students. The government is relying on the ups and downs of private financial markets to soften the impact of massive tuition increases. In this way, it is moving farther away from the goals of universality and accessibility so important to every equality-seeking group, including working class students, immigrants, and women. This is one more example of the extent to which private-interests are being served by Ontario’s universities, to the detriment of social justice.
The government’s infrastructure project that has created public-private partnerships in Ontario’s colleges and universities is slated to construct 76,250 new student spaces to cope with dramatic increases in enrolment. If we add in the 2,870 student spaces that will eventually be created in the new private University of Ontario Institute of Technology, then we arrive at the figure of 79,120 new student spaces created by SuperBuild.8 This year’s Budget re-announced funding for 20,000 spaces that had already been announced in last year’s Budget. In a few weeks we will undoubtedly hear yet another announcement of these 20,000 “new” student spaces, once the list of winners in the latest round in the SuperBuild competition is released. The 2003 Budget claims that 135,000 new student spaces have been created through SuperBuild. What the Budget speech doesn’t say is that almost 36,000 of these new student spaces are being created through renovations to existing buildings, intensifying the use of space, and increasing the workload of university workers throughout Ontario’s campuses without addressing the massive deferral of maintenance that has been built up in our public institutions.
In conclusion, privatization does not only mean the selling-off of our public resources. It also means that the logic of restructuring, as defined by corporations, is brought directly into the public sector. The restructuring of our work is one unmistakable result.
1. Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, Media Release, April 4, 2003.
2. Ontario Ministry of Finance, Paper F Progress Through Partnereship: Multi-yer Base Funding in Ontario, Ontario Budget 2003 Papers, p.184
3. Ontario Ministry of Finance, p. 183.
4. Hon. Janet Ecker, `Budget Speech`, 2003 Ontario Budget: The Right Choices: Securing our Future”, p.26
5. Press Release, Ontario Ministry of Education, August 26, 1996. 6. Ecker, Budget Speech, p.26.
7. Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, “Submission: Ontario Student Opportunity Trust Fund”, November 20, 2002, p.3.
8. Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, “SuperBuild Infrastructure Projects Fall 2002” 222.edu.gov.on.ca/superbuild/English/summary/summary2002.html