Nova Scotia auditor general says oversight of student progress is lacking

Nova Scotia's auditor general has found shortcomings in provincial oversight of public school student progress and $300 million a year in grants going to universities.

Michael Pickup's report also says there is 'no accountability' for provincial grants to universities

MIchael Pickup, Nova Scotia's auditor general, has found shortcomings in provincial oversight of public-school student progress and of $300 million a year in grants to universities. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia's auditor general has found shortcomings in provincial oversight of both public-school student progress and of $300 million a year in grants going to universities. 

Michael Pickup looked at the Halifax, Strait and Chignecto-Central school boards afterextremely poor student results were reported in his audit of the Tri-county school board.

"The Department of Education should establish performance standards for school boards to monitor and evaluate student educational achievement," Pickup wrote in his report released Wednesday.

He called it a "significant recommendation" that's needed to know whether student assessment results are acceptable.

Pickup said school boards need to request more information such as school progress. The report also noted that until recently, staff withheld student assessment results from elected school boards — in some cases for several months.

University deficits

Also in this report, Pickup said the Department of Labour and Advanced Education "has no accountability" for grants it gives 10 universities.

He says funding allocation — based on 2011 enrolment levels — is out of date. 

The department is not regularly monitoring financial health of universities, he says, and should develop a strategic direction to address "sustainability concerns."

Without changes, Pickup says the universities are collectively facing a $50-million operating deficit by 2018.

He says the province and universities have failed to meet objectives of developing a new formula to allocate provincial government grants.

The government has said it is promising a new four-year memorandum of understanding with universities. But the department says changes to the current allocation will result in more funding for some universities and less for others. 

"The implications for those universities recording less funding are very serious," the department said in a written response.

Pickup also revealed the $25 million Excellence and Innovation Fund that was established in 2012 to reduce university costs failed to deliver promised savings.

"We were not pleased to see those results. We would expect more from a program of that size," he said. 

Pickup's report also examined business continuity plans for emergency interruptions, oversight of municipal spending and forest management.

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.

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