Volume 29, No. 6 Editor: Bob Rupert April 1998.

HIGH STAKES IN THE UPCOMING PROVINCIAL ELECTION

These are disturbing times.

An Ontario election appears imminent. The latest polls show the Liberals

well ahead of the Harris Conservatives 47-35. At the Ontario

Confederation of University Faculty Associations' urging, both the

Liberals and the NDP have committed to restoring post-secondary education

funding to pre-Harris levels.

A column by John Ibbitson in the April 26 issue of The national Post is

published below. If anybody had any lingering doubt, it should now be

clear that the Harris Conservatives are preparing to take dead aim at us

and our students if they are returned to power.

HIGHER EDUCATION NEXT TORY TARGET

John Ibbitson

[reprinted with permission]

National Post April 26, 1999

Colleges, universities could be turned into job factories.

Last week's seemingly bland Throne ''Speech was anything but. In it, the

Mike Harris government offered the first glimmer of plans for their second

revolution in education, should they be re-elected.

A little-noticed paragraph halfway through the speech promised "to follow

the road map provided by the Jobs and Investment Board.

That board released a report last month so filled with flow charts and

business babble that its arrival went virtually unnoticed. This was a

mistake. The report's author is David Lindsay, one of the premiers closest

and most powerful advisors. And his recommendations are potent.

Mr. Lindsay would have the Ontario government do to the post- secondary

sector what it has done to the school boards. It would force the

university and college administrations to reshape their programs to fit

the needs of the job market or lose their funding.

Ultimately, it contemplates eliminating provincial funding of colleges and

universities entirely. Instead, the government would fund students

directly, through some form of vouchers, which they would cash in at the

college or university of their choice.

Mr. Lindsay is an eminently practical man, who graduated from Queen's

University to become an accountant. He wrote the report for a premier who

quit university after one year and went back up north to work for his dad.

That premier has appointed two ministers of Education John Snobelen, who

made his millions having never got past Grade 11; and Dave Johnson, who

graduated McMaster as an engineer and went to work in the oil industry.

Together, these four men have already wrested control of elementary and

secondary education away from the boards of education, reshaping the

system to be tougher, more pragmatic and more closely focused on fitting

students for jobs.

Now it's the turn of the post-secondary sphere. Specifically, Mr. Lindsay

has recommended, and Mr. Harris endorsed, a plan that would "target

provincial funding for post-secondary education and training institutions

based on the employment results of the graduates;" "establish an

independent quality assessment organization for post-secondary

institutions with a mandate to establish quality standards, assess

programs against standards, and report publicly on quality-related matters

in post- secondary education;'' "consider longer-term alternatives such

as a student-driven funding system, to replace some or all of the

province's grants to colleges and universities," .

Think of it, colleges and universities would be funded based on how well

they fitted their graduates to the job market. A provincial body would

report on how well each university did in each program.

Ultimately, we would move to a voucher system in post-secondary education,

in which students would drive the market by favouring, and therefore

entirely funding, those schools that best trained them for jobs.

The Tories have already taken steps in this direction, by cutting back on

general grants while creating new grants for information-technology

programs, and by increasing tuition fees, making the student a more

important player in

the funding system.

Because those tuition hikes have increased the financial burden on

students, they now focus more on getting in and out of university as

quickly as possible, with a job right after graduation the first priority,

the better to pay off those enormous loans.

No more the professional scholar wandering through the system,

accumulating degrees along the way. Farewell the politically incorrect

administration that limits admission to engineering programs while

fostering degrees in

women's studies.

The autonomous liberal-arts university is in its last days. Welcome the

provincially controlled, market-sensitive, advanced polytechnic that will

replace it.

Mr. Harris has also suddenly developed an interest in early childhood

education, endorsing a report last week that called for child-development

centres - day care on steroids - that would involve parents and the state

in accelerating the mental development of infants and young children. The

Throne Speech also promised the government would "co-ordinate" (control)

the disparate programs for adult training and education across the

province.

One sees, finally, the complete picture. The Conservatives would transform

our education system into a seamless, job- creating machine that latches

onto the child the moment it leaves the womb, prepares it through years of

basic

education, streams it into apprenticeship, vocational or professional

training programs, hones it at the post-secondary level into an ideally

incubated worker ready for the province's state-of-the-art economy, and

then refreshes and retrains it until death.

Policy is prejudice. Mr. Harris and his advisors seek to fashion this new

system less on statistics and research than on their own dispositions,

their own experiences with the education system, their own mutually

reinforcing attitudes about the role of education in preparing children

for the job market.

Don't bother to tell them they risk robbing our young of the mystery of

self-discovery, which is what education is also about, that they are

sacrificing our humanities programs on the alter of economic advantage,

that we are surrendering our civilization to our economy.

And do not trust this writer. His undergraduate degree was in English

drama, he was mostly educated through late-night arguments over goulash

and red wine in a Hungarian restaurant on Bloor Street, and the single

most powerful piece of information imparted to him in a university

classroom was that beauty is truth, truth beauty.

He has his own prejudices.

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