Report calls for new approach to planning, funding, and accountability in Nova Scotia university system
A new report released by Students Nova Scotia (StudentsNS) warns that Nova Scotia’s emphasis on enrolment growth in allocating university funding threatens institutions’ stability and education quality, while failing to promote transparency and accountability. Getting the Most from Our Universities: A New Approach to System Planning and Funding in Nova Scotia recommends significant reforms to the province’s funding formula and the university system’s overall governance structure.
Under the present funding formula, 90% of universities’ provincial operating grants is allocated on a per-student basis. The report finds that this creates a strong incentive for universities to grow enrolment and punishes institutions that pursue different priorities or cannot grow as quickly.
“For a university, your financial security depends on registering as many students as possible,” notes report co-author and StudentsNS Director of Research, Bob Parker. “When government funding is limited, as it is now, the formula creates winners and losers.”
To remedy this, the report recommends a series of reforms to deemphasize enrolment growth and link more funding to improvements in student success, program quality and support services, and/or the expansion of economic, social, and cultural benefits for local communities.
“Our universities are among Nova Scotia’s most important assets and receive significant funding from government and students,” notes co-author and StudentsNS Executive Director, Jonathan Williams. “We should expect universities to spend our dollars in pursuit of goals identified by students and the wider society—and our report outlines funding mechanisms to make sure this happens.”
Echoing earlier calls by the Province’s Auditor General, the report recommends the formation of a Post-Secondary Policy and Accountability Framework that would identify system priorities. The Framework would also establish much-needed transparency and accountability standards.
“As it stands, Nova Scotia’s universities are simply not accountable enough for the money they receive,” says Williams. “Providing adequate government funding is essential, but Nova Scotia lacks adequate safeguards to ensure this funding isn’t mismanaged.”
The report also targets the diversion of academic research funding into administration, considering the Province already funds the administration of research through the funding formula. Curtailing this practice would reduce administrative overhead and maximize research output, supporting innovation and possibly creating more research opportunities for students.
Finally, the report argues that students must be included as full partners in the university system. Students are currently excluded from most of the important Partnership negotiation process.
“As this report demonstrates, students are capable partners with workable solutions for our post-secondary system’s tough problems,” Williams says. “It is time to fully include students in decision-making because a post-secondary system that is unaccountable to students is unaccountable, period.”
The report is the culmination of an extensive three-month process of research and consultation across the province, and it has been adopted as official policy for StudentsNS and its 36,000 members moving forward. Building upon this work, the organization will release a second report in April discussing overall university funding from government and student tuition.
For a full copy of the report, please visit http://studentsns.ca/getting-the-most-from-our-universities/