New Brunswick

New Brunswick MLAs ponder performance-based funding for universities

Switching the provincial funding formula for public universities to a performance-based model is a conversation worth having, according to Education Minister Dominic Cardy.

Ontario, Alberta governments are moving to tie funding to the achievement of certain targets

The CBC New Brunswick Political Panel Podcast discusses the idea of performance-based funding for public universities. (Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press)

Switching New Brunswick's funding formula for public universities to a performance-based model is a conversation worth having, according to Education Minister Dominic Cardy. 

Speaking on the CBC New Brunswick Political Podcast, Cardy said the public has a right to see an improved return on investment for their tax dollars, while emphasizing academic independence in the province is not under threat.

"We do have to be able to sit and talk about the needs of the public sector," said Cardy, who took the place of Trevor Holder, minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, on the panel.

"And in government, obviously, one of the reasons we are contributing this money is to get qualified nurses, qualified teachers, other professionals who we need to be able to support a strong public sector that delivers services for New Brunswickers."

Education Minister Dominic Cardy says the issue of performance-based funding for New Brunswick's public post-secondary institutions is worth discussing. (CBC)

The discussion comes as Ontario and Alberta move toward performance-based models under which funding is essentially allocated based on the achievement of certain targets.

It also follows dissatisfaction with the outcomes from a supplementary funding agreement with the University of Moncton and University of New Brunswick that injected tens of millions since 2005 to expand the two nursing programs.

But it resulted in no additional places for students. 

Cardy highlighted a recent report by New Brunswick's auditor general that criticized that agreement in particular and recommended re-examining the overall funding formula for publicly funded post-secondary institutions.

MLAs representing the Liberals and the Greens questioned how the targets will be set and whether a performance-based model would be the right choice, saying it has not been effective in other jurisdictions around the world. 

Liberal MLA Roger Melanson also questioned the Progressive Conservative government's motives.

"With this government, there always seems to be a hidden agenda where they want to reduce funding and cut some of the services that are quite valuable to our universities," Melanson said.

In a move to rein in budgetary spending, Ontario and Alberta are shifting to a performance-based funding model for public universities. Would this be a smart move in New Brunswick? Progressive Conservative Education Minister Dominic Cardy, Liberal MLA Roger Melanson, Green Party Leader David Coon and People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin joined the weekly political panel to discuss the idea. 50:57

Green Leader David Coon said it's a major leap to demand more from the supplementary agreement with nursing programs at two universities to then want to rejig the entire model.

Changes to the programs in Ontario and Alberta drew plenty of opposition from critics concerned a new model will create inequality in the system.

The Federation of New Brunswick Faculty Associations has already issued a position paper arguing against a performance-based formula.

The association said the schools need "consistent and adequate" funding that will allow universities to "fulfill their fundamental teaching and research missions, while preserving academic freedom and institutional autonomy."

People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin says he's fully in agreement with implementing a performance-based funding model for public universities. (Jordan Gill/CBC)

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin says he's ready to make the switch.

"Frankly, I think that should be government's role as a whole," Austin said.

"We should be, as taxpayers, saying we want to performance for the dollar we're spending."

He said the targets should be the only matter up for debate.

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