Manitoba

'Not really a consultation': Faculty walk out on Manitoba government meeting, say proposed model flawed

As Manitoba appears to move forward with a controversial plan to assess post-secondary institutions using performance, faculty at one university are accusing the government of using them as political cover.

Staff assumed agreement with performance-based metrics, didn't provide rationale, professor says

Peter Miller, University of Winnipeg Faculty Association president and a classics professor, said the government should establish the pitfalls with the existing post-secondary model if it believes that performance-based metrics are necessary. (Submitted/Peter Miller)

As Manitoba explores a potential new way to finance higher education, faculty at one university is accusing the government of using them as political cover.

The University of Winnipeg Faculty Association left a virtual consultation on the Progressive Conservative government's post-secondary accountability framework last week. 

President Peter Miller said provincial staff were acting as if everybody was on board with moving toward a performance-based model, which isn't true.

"We decided this was not really a consultation as far as we understood it, because it was starting from the assumption that we agreed with this process, that it would make sense to implement performance metrics," he said.

"The three of us [with UWFA] fundamentally disagreed with it, and we wanted to come there and say that and tell them why, from our expert opinion as faculty, this was a bad idea for universities, and we weren't given that chance."

It felt like the government was speaking with the faculty association to claim it consulted with them, even though the process was flawed from the start, he said.

Tie sector to labour needs

The PC government has repeatedly signalled its intention to explore some form of performance-based funding to finance higher education in the province. The government said it wants to tailor universities and colleges to meet labour market needs, but hasn't elaborated on what that might look like.

A majority of American states have developed a funding model of this style. They tend to rely on measures such as graduation rates and the number of degrees awarded, rather than enrolment alone.

Ontario recently implemented a similar model, while Alberta is allocating five per cent of each institution's funding to their performance. 

In May, the province launched a consultation process on an accountability framework, which could include performance metrics and developing a relationship between performance and funding.

The government said it has made no decisions yet.

Faculty at the University of Winnipeg walked out of a recent meeting with the province over a consultation process the union says was inadequate. (Justin Deeley/CBC)

If a new financial model is actually necessary, Miller said, the government should open its consultation meeting by explaining the problems at play and why an outcomes-based approach is needed.

Instead, Manitoba is "putting the cart before the horse and saying, 'Here's something we're going to implement,' without even suggesting why we would do so,'" Miller said.

"What's wrong with post-secondary right now that this is just trying to assess and solve that couldn't be answered?"

Miller said he never got an answer to that question at the meeting.

A provincial spokesperson did not answer a question about the government's approach to the consultation meeting, which Miller said appeared to assume that performance metrics are the way to go. The spokesperson said the meeting was a chance for stakeholders to give input on the development of a framework for how to make universities more accountable.

The government has indicated it wants to bolster oversight of post-secondary institutions following a 2020 report from the auditor general. The report encouraged the creation of "results-based performance metrics" to monitor financial and operational performance, but didn't prescribe a framework for doing that.

The consultation meeting last Friday was sparsely attended. The University of Manitoba Faculty Association says its email invitation landed in its spam folder, while Brandon University's faculty executive was unable to attend.

And the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations — which represents faculty at four universities — was never invited.

After receiving a link minutes before the meeting, MOFA sent an email indicating to a government employee they would be in attendance. They were booted from the meeting shortly after it started, said MOFA campaigns coordinator Zach Fleisher, who has yet to hear an explanation as to why they weren't invited. 

Association booted from meeting

"It tells me that this is a political decision to push like a organized provincial association out of the picture because we've successfully raised the pitfalls of this government's policies and the risks that they're taking with Manitoba's universities," Fleisher said.

The association has criticized the government's actions in the sector, including a decrease in operating grants while the Tories have been in power, a spike in tuition revenue and plans for a new tuition policy that could include different classes of tuition for different programs. 

Miller says universities and colleges are succeeding. The vast majority of graduates are getting jobs and generally earning higher salaries than those without a degree or diploma to their names.

An institution following prescribed government targets won't be inclined to innovate or try new things, Miller said. That would be a loss to the sector, he said.

"It took me eight years to get my BA," Miller said. "I guess I would be a failure by a performance metric on student progression and time to graduate — and yet then I went on to get an MA, PhD and now I'm a professor."

The province said it would schedule a follow-up meeting with other faculty associations in the near future. 

Faculty walk out on Manitoba government meeting, say proposed model flawed

2 months ago
Duration 1:55
As Manitoba explores a potential new way to finance higher education, faculty at one university is accusing the government of using them as political cover.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. He previously reported on a bit of everything for newspapers. You can reach him at ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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