Discussions between the Liberal provincial government and post-secondary institutions in Ontario are set to commence as the government pursues incorporation of criteria such as graduation and employment rates in calculations determining the amount of provincial funding a school will receive.

Revisions to funding formulae are being negotiated for both undergraduate and graduate programs.

The funding discussions follow a December 2016 announcement by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD) stating that funding for undergraduate and graduate programs would be increased within new boundaries, and that programs that equip students with skills valuable in the labour market would be favoured.

The Varsity spoke with Meric Gertler, President of the University of Toronto, regarding the pressure to tie university funding to measures of institutional performance based on student performance in the labour market. Gertler noted that representatives from the university have “been active in the discussions on the new funding formula” and “in working with the [MAESD] as they consider various options” over the summer and fall of 2016.

When asked if the university had a stance on the new funding formula, Gertler stated, “The University of Toronto has been advocating greater differentiation within the provincial system for many years.”

He emphasized that the university favours “greater recognition by the provincial government of the different strengths and the different roles that each university plays within the system” and holds the position that school funding and performance assessments “should also reflect those differentiated roles.”

Instead of being assessed for rates of graduation or employment after graduation, Gertler said that the university is “urging the provincial government” to individualize performance standards in order for each institution to “be assessed according to things that make sense according to our own distinctive roles.”

The trend to tie funding to post-secondary institution’s performance has been making its way across the country. Programs preparing students for in-demand jobs are set to receive a quarter of the funding allocated for post-secondary education in British Columbia, for example.

Gertler said that enrolment at U of T has “seen quite a bit of growth overall” and estimated that graduate enrolment had grown from approximately 11,000 to 16,800 students.

“The biggest growth has been, certainly professional masters programs,” enrolment in which has “more than doubled from about 3,600 to over 7,700 over the last 10 years.” These programs “tend to be less focused on research, more focused on applied areas of work,” he said.

When asked about the rapid expansion of professional masters programs, Gertler stated that the number of these and diploma programs at U of T has grown from “roughly 50 to over 70,” with faculties across all three campuses planning to introduce new programs in the next five years.

Examples of such programs include the Master of Business Administration, Master of Public Policy, and Master of Global Affairs at UTSG; Master of Sustainability Management and Master of Biotechnology at UTM; and Master of Environmental Science at UTSC.

While professional master programs aimed at students’ future employability are proliferating, Gertler told The Varsity there is no university-wide plan to shift undergraduate degrees in a similar direction. “Individual faculties are always assessing the content of their curriculum and trying to make sure that it serves the needs of our students well,” he said.

Although the province “has signalled [an] interest” in linking undergraduate funding to criteria such as rates of employment or graduation, “rather than focusing on specific skills,” the university is “encouraging our individual divisions who teach undergraduates” to build on “the strengths of a liberal education,” Gertler said.

Gertler emphasized that the strength of “a broad-based education at the undergraduate level” is in its ability to “prepare our students for a lifetime of success, not just their first job but their ability to succeed in reinventing themselves multiple times over their careers.”