Fed Watch!

Dumbing Down in Ontario

Over twenty-three million dollars was given to Ontario Universities this year based on their performance as judged by the Ontario Government. The performance of the Universities was measured on three key indicators:
the graduation rate of students
the six month employment rate of graduates from undergraduate programs
the two year employment rate of graduates from undergraduate programs

That the Ontario Provincial Government would tie funding to the rate of graduation is disturbing however, as it encourages Universities to establish policies of easier grading to improve their percentage of graduating students. These key performance indicators also tend to punish universities that have a higher percentage of students moving into postgraduate studies, or that offer programmes which promote non-traditional lifestyles such as one of social activism.

Unfortunately, the governments continual concentration on economics as the primary way to benefit people forces them into the practice of using quantitative rather than qualitative measurements. A university that manages to get 95% of it’s students jobs as burger flippers will fare better under this system than one that creates Pulitzer prize winners among a group of non-traditionally employed. There was once a time when a University Education was about being a better citizen of society, not just a better worker.

Increasing Access

Better news comes for Ontario post-secondary students with disabilities. The Government has announced a plan to extend a pilot project of providing bursaries to disabled post-secondary students province wide (http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/nr/02.02/nr0207.html). This program will allow students with physical or learning disabilities across the province of Ontario to receive bursaries of up to $10,000.00 to help support them while they are going through post-secondary education.

“The majority of students who participated in our learning disabilities pilot projects said that the supports they received helped them to be more successful in their postsecondary studies,” reports Dianne Cunningham, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. This is hardly surprising however, as studies have shown that in order to afford postsecondary education, many students have having to take part-time jobs in addition to their full time school status. It is little wonder that receiving an extra bursary can help take some of the pressure off and allow a student to concentrate more fully on their studies. What is surprising is that it takes a set of projects over five years at the cost of $30 million to figure this out. It seems only common sense that the best way to increase the number of graduates coming from universities is not to bribe the universities to graduate more students, but rather to provide the students with the necessary resources so that they can devote their time and energy to learning rather than surviving.

Health Reports All Over

Roy Romanow’s interim report on Health Care has already been roasted by most of the press as a document useful only for saying that Roy’s doing something with the money that’s been given to him. Exactly what, we’re not sure, but something. In fact, the recent press release (http://www.gc.ca/wire/2002/02/070202_e.html) sums up the contents of the report quite nicely in four bullet points. In brief, Roy Romanow’s ideas so far include raising taxes, user fees, putting more of it on the private sector, and “the reorganization of service delivery to preserve and improve the current system”. None of these are new – in fact, these ideas are pretty much the same ones that we started with. It’s too bad that with all the money spent on this issue, nobody it seems has yet thought of any real legislative solutions or incentive programs to encourage people to stay healthy, and keep the system working.

A growing body of evidence suggests that privatization is definitely not the way to go, and those that try it wind up suffering (http://www.cupe.ca/mediaroom/newsreleases/showitem.asp?id=4773&cl=1) a massive reduction in quality and access. Despite this, various governments across Canada, unwilling or unable to make any of the truly hard decisions necessary to keep health care working instead are deciding to pass things off to the magic of the private sector.

I’ll certainly admit it is a tempting option. After all, look what the magic of private enterprise has brought us in terms of goods and luxuries. Yet it seems by focussing on this aspect, we miss something critical in the development of good private sector companies — those that make bad decisions fail, while those that make better decisions survive. This is fine if the companies are making consumer goods and services, things that don’t really matter if individual companies fail. The difference in medical services however is that we can not afford to let them fail.

Not once.

We can’t afford to have a person permanently injured because a “discount” chiropractic office didn’t hire people with enough training. We can’t afford to have people waiting for dialysis left up in the air when their provider goes bankrupt.

Without the freedom to fail, there is nothing that encourages the evolution of private providers to the best methods possible – and if that isn’t there, then the entire reasoning behind privatization can and should be seriously questioned.