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Post-secondary education and performance-based funding: uncharted territory

Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides poses for a photo. Nicolaides is part of Alberta’s UCP government, which has decided to tie post-secondary funding to performance metrics.

This spring, the UCP government will begin to attach performance-based metrics to post-secondary funding. This will fundamentally alter the way universities and colleges are funded in Alberta.

 

Starting in April, all post-secondary institutions in Alberta will have 15 per cent of their funding tied to performance-based metrics. This will increase to 40 per cent by 2023.

 

The government says the move is necessary to improve accountability for post-secondary institutions, and to help strengthen the economy.

 

Similar performance metrics were instituted in Ontario in 2019 by the government of Doug Ford.

 

“The Government of Alberta provides over $2 billion in funding to our universities, colleges, and polytechnics, and that funding is not tied to any types of metrics or criteria,” said Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides.

 

“There’s actually no formula to decide how institutions receive funding, so a change to the funding model is long overdue,” said Nicolaides.

 

Lack of transparency

The performance-based metrics have not yet been released to the public or post-secondary institutions, despite the rapidly approaching start date of the program, on April 1.

 

For Ontario’s performance-based funding model, metrics are tied to student employment, employability after graduation, and graduation rates.

 

 “Our high-level goal with the metrics is to build a stronger connection between education and jobs,” said Nicolaides.

 

“So we aim to see a greater focus on employability and employment skills.”

 

Post-secondary institutions will have a limited number of metrics implemented this year. This will increase to about 20 over the following 3 years.

 

Tailor-made approaches?

To avoid competition between institutions for funding, each institution will have its own specifically-tailored metrics. A school will only need to compete against its own performance from previous years.

 

“That’s exactly why we’ve been very careful, and developed a gradual and phased approach,” said Nicolaides.

 

Student groups have been largely supportive of the move, and Garrett Koehler, chair of the Board of Directors of the Alberta Students Executive Council (ASEC) is “cautiously optimistic” about the changes.

 

“This could be an avenue for the government to make larger cuts, but we are also excited to see that the government is mandating these institutions to be more fiscally responsible and transparent,” said Koehler.

 

One of the biggest concerns for ASEC is whether the targets are realistic and achievable.

 

“I have cautioned the minister of ensuring they are obtainable, especially in the first few years of rolling this out, because we’ve seen in many other publicly funded organizations that Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can be detrimental.”

 

Koehler also says there are questions surrounding what happens to money that is withheld if an institution doesn’t meet their requirements. He wants to ensure that, if money is withheld from an institution because it has not fulfilled its KPIs, “that money stays within the post-secondary budget.”

 

Questions of employability

The government is also open to the introduction of other performance-based metrics that wouldn’t necessarily be about employability.

 

Koehler says the government has indicated that it will also include a student suggested metric.

 

Koehler believes that if given the opportunity, ASEC would lean towards a metric that would push for increased open educational resources. This would allow students greater free access to course learning materials without having to buy textbooks.

 

He admits the implementation of this system might be difficult. However, he’s ultimately optimistic this will be a good movement for post-secondary institutions, and students in the long run.

 

“I have much faith in this government to ensure that they can rework the KPIs to ensure they are obtainable for post-secondary, and still respect students and taxpayers,” said Koehler.

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