“The greatest waste now confronting us is not one of money but of human possibilities.” – John Maynard Keynes
Ms Soapbox is concerned that the recent announcement by Mr Nicolaides, the minister of Advanced Education, has brought Alberta another step closer to squandering its human possibilities.
Mr Nicolaides announced the implementation of a new “outcomes-based” funding model for 26 post secondary institutions, which will tie a percentage of an institution’s operating budget to performance measures. The percentage will start at 15% and increase to 40% by 2022-23.
Mr Nicolaides said this “outcomes-based” system is necessary to ensure post secondary institutions remain accountable for the investment taxpayers make in them. It will provide more clarity to taxpayers on what the funding is meant to accomplish. And it will ensure schools compete against themselves to achieve these goals.
Does anyone have any idea what he’s talking about?
No, of course not. Words like “accountable”, “investment”, “clarity” and “compete against themselves” are meaningless unless you see them in context. Mr Nicolaides hasn’t provided much in the way of context, but he has discussed a few specifics.
20 performance metrics
Each institution will have up to 20 performance metrics, the metrics will be weighted to take into account the type of school, and if the school does not hit its target it will receive funding in proportion to what it achieves (80% of a target yields 80% of the funding for that target).
As someone who worked in the private sector for over twenty years, 20 performance metrics is way too many. The corporations I worked for issued four to five performance metrics annually. These would cascade down from the performance metrics the executives set for themselves. They usually included the following: (1) health, safety and environment, (2) overall corporate performance, (3) business unit performance, and (4) a personal performance metric. These four or five metrics were individualized by three or four targets that were measurable and relevant to my specific role.
Institutions assessed as a whole
Institutions will be assessed as a whole, not based on individual programs or departments.
Hmmm. The University of Calgary has 108 undergraduate programs, 15 graduate study programs, an open studies program for degree and non-degree holders, and 63 continuing education programs. Pity the poor schmuck who gets stuck with coming up with the school-wide performance assessment given this range of programing. And good luck running the performance assessment document up the flag pole through the various levels of leadership, including the Board of Governors, who will be keenly interested in seeing the document before it’s delivered to the minister.
3 year funding agreements
Funding agreements will be in place for 3 years instead of being renewed annually.
This is good news for an institution that gets full funding because it provides funding certainty for the next three years, but it’s bad news for an institution that did not get fully funded in year one because any improvements it makes over the next two years will not count.
The new outcomes-based model will tie funding to successfully meeting performance targets, including improving services, increasing efficiencies, developing innovative programs and research and connecting graduates with jobs.
These are wonderfully vague targets that any administrator with an ounce of creativity should be able to meet.
Possible metrics include graduate employment rate, median graduate income, graduate skills and competencies, work-integrated learning opportunities, administrative expense ratio, sponsored research revenue, enrolment (including potential targets for domestic students, international students and under-represented learners).
Some of these metrics are completely within the institutions’ control and are not problematic per se; but others like graduate employment rate and median graduate income are dependent on the economy which, contrary to what Mr Kenney says, is not driven by government policy but by global markets.
And while we’re on the topic of goofy metrics, how would one assess graduate skills and competencies other than by counting the number of students who graduated and who, by definition, have the skills and competencies required to graduate in their field of study.
The purpose of post secondary education
Instead of thoughtfully considering the role of post secondary education in today’s rapidly changing world—and it’s not to ‘add value’ to students before spitting them out into the market place—the UCP government decided to graft a corporate performance management tool onto Alberta’s institutions of high learning.
Fear not, Mr Nicolaides says, the details of his outcome-based funding model will be hammered out in consultations with educators and students by Apr 1, 2020. That’s just a little more than two months, folks.
Ms Soapbox says good luck with that.