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The problem with performance-based funding

In January, the provincial government announced that they would be moving towards performance-based funding for post-secondary institutions.

In January, the provincial government announced that they would be moving towards performance-based funding for post-secondary institutions.

While Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides mentioned that these institutions would have individual targets, he did indicate that those targets could include the following metrics:

  • Graduation and completion rates
  • Post-graduate employment
  • Experiential learning
  • Enrolment
  • Quality of teaching
  • Student satisfaction

Those indicators are problematic, even though superficially they seem like a good idea.

It seems like a good idea to have good graduation and completion rates. But what if people drop out for reasons beyond the school’s control? I dropped out twice: once for financial reasons, and the other because of scheduling issues with my job. None of those were the fault of the school. If people find out that they just can’t survive anymore on student loans, or can’t go back to school and work at the same time, or can’t be a student and a parent at the same time and decide to drop out, should the school be held responsible for it?

Post-graduate employment might be a good idea if the purpose of the institution is get graduates employed. This makes sense for a trade school, for example. A university, on the other hand, isn’t designed for this. It’s designed to increase knowledge and improve thinking skills.

Same goes for experiential learning. I assume this is practicum, co-op, and other theory-into-practice programmes. Again, this might be a good idea for institutions designed to manufacture workers.

The problem with funding based on enrolment is that it will encourage institutions to create and market popular programmes, rather than necessary programmes. And it will amplify the existing narrative around programme worthiness that already exists in advanced education.

How do you measure quality of education? How do you measure student satisfaction? These are both arbitrary, subjective metrics. Lots of university students hate broad-based, liberal education, but that doesn’t mean it has no value and shouldn’t be funded.

This announcement further enforces the conservative idea that university is only for the elite and that its job should be pumping out workers.

The next thing we know, art galleries are going to be forced to host only works of realism.

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By Kim Siever

I live in Lethbridge with my spouse and 5 of our 6 children. I’m a writer, focusing on political news, social issues, and the occasional poem. My politics are radically left. I recently finished writing a book debunking several capitalism myths. My newest book writing project is on the labour history of Lethbridge.

I’m also dichotomally Mormon. And I’m a functional vegetarian: I have a blog post about that somewhere around here. My pronouns are he/him, and I’m queer.

2 replies on “The problem with performance-based funding”

When you combine this with the UCP’s interest in streamed education (primary and secondary), it becomes very clear that these metrics will also affect admissions. Universities will be incentivised and enabled to admit mainly wealthy students, who have the financial, familial and social supports to finish “on time” and get well-paying jobs on graduation. So these policies further wealth inequality and disbar marginalized students from post-secondary education.

Absolutely. University education is already inaccessible for so many people, and this is just going to make it worse.

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