The era of the publicly assisted entity

30 Jun

For months, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Glen Murray, has been promising a revolutionary, new, innovative, amazing, spectacular, life-altering, history-creating, groundbreaking *policy* change that would bring higher education into some fictional reality most of us aren’t privy to.

Well, its discussion paper (whatever that means) has been released. It’s here. It’s SO revolutionary that you’ve probably never heard of it before. It’s the hipster version of policy delivery.

*Spoiler alert* it’s written as if the conclusions are foregone.

I could waste a lot of time telling you why I think this entire thing is a charade, but I respect (most of) you too much to waste your time. So, I’ll stick to the most obvious signal, for me, that this will be an exercise in the generation of vacant buzz words rather than progressive, positive policy development.

At the FIRST mention of universities, the discussion paper (whatever that means) refers to universities as “publicly assisted” rather than public.

This is important.

This year, nearly all Ontario universities will collect more revenue from private sources than from public sources to fund operations. This effectively means that they’ve been privatized by stealth. It’s worth noting that, before Glen blocked me and others on Twitter, he called us liars when we pointed this out. Look it up yourself. Make sure it’s comparing operating grants to tuition fees, otherwise, it’s lumping in a bunch of other funding envelopes that will skew this number. But, anyway, we’re past the era of public universities and the government is obviously aware of this.

So, what’s wrong with such a line in such a discussion paper (whatever that means)?

It’s a foregone conclusion. It readily admits that the government is uninterested in increasing its funding to universities. And, if they don’t, students do.

Saying that the system isn’t sustainable and there’s a problem, but then admitting in your own definitions that you’re uninterested in any solution that includes increased government funding is simple cognitive dissonance. Underfunding *is* the problem. How can you have an open consultation process when you’ve already settled on the idea that government is not going to pony up the dough?

I’m living in Québec now, I should stop caring about Ontario. But, it’s really hard. The Liberals there are a making worse decisions about higher education than Mike Harris. Re-read that 10 times aloud, please. It can’t be said enough. Dalton hasn’t once reversed any of the garbage tuition fee decisions that were made by Mike Harris. In fact, he layered a 71% fee increase on top of Harris’ fees.

This “crisis” that Glen is hoping to solve through twitter conversations (seriously, he’s asked for twitter comments on this, unless he’s blocked you, like all vocal student critics in Toronto at least once have been), was created by him, previous Ministers and his government. Actually, Nick Falvo talks about this in the broader Canadian sense, here.

Sorry if I’m pessimistic about this exercise, but it just doesn’t feel right. It’s like bringing the thief who broke into your house and stole your Gibson back as a consultant to give advice on thief-proofing your guitars.

I’m likely to write more about this later, and folks at the Ontario Office of the Canadian Federation of Students will likely have something along the lines of what I’ve written (but footnoted!), but there’s something in my stomach that dies a little when I see phrases like “publicly assisted.”

Or, we should at least insist on consistency: publicly assisted hospitals. Publicly assisted dairy farmers. Publicly assisted Rogers Inc. Publicly assisted Inco. Publicly assisted Caterpillar….sorry, scratch that one.

6 Responses to “The era of the publicly assisted entity”

  1. Hey Nora,

    Great post. What I find interesting about the use of “publicly-assisted” as the term used by Murray here is that, while it reflects a lot of the statements made in the higher ed. studying areas within universities themselves, it makes the language a little bit more palatable than it should be.

    I’ve often heard it said, by folks in said field, that PSE is filled with “private, non-profit” institutions rather than truly public institutions, which is much more – I think – accurate for the kind of system that Murray and others wish to create. Even publicly-assisted gives an almost rosy and misleading sense of what is occurring within PSE. Rather than simply admitting an urge to privatize the system in actuality, Murray hides behind creative (yet still empty) wording.

    • Nora Loreto at 3:46 am #

      Right. I think it was David Naylor who first started using the phrase most consistently, although Sandy would know better than I. It’s likely from the US where public institutions often have such a small fraction of their budgets paid for by the state, that publicly assisted is a phrase that makes more sense, but I agree with you entirely.

      • Sandy Hudson at 3:13 pm #

        I’m fairly certain he was the first to use that language in Ontario. It came about in an attempt to have others view UofT as a private institution. That way, when they were asking to be even more private through the proposed 30-year plan of UofT that he developed ( Towards 2030), it would be more palatable. Apparently the government likes that strategy.

        Anyway. I can’t believe they’re going through with this “consultation”.

  2. Jon at 8:36 am #

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