Editorial—Red Tape Extravaganza!

Welcome to Red Tape Awareness Week.  This week, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses hosted a week where it likes to put a spotlight on government regulations that hamper businesses.  You know, things like regulations that ensure that businesses that want to put out hot meals have the proper equipment to safely cook and process the food and be inspected to be sure of that.

On Tuesday, January 21, the CFIB awarded Alberta the highest grade of reducing red tape across the country, a grade of B-.  Presumably, to get an A, we would need to remove all safety or consumer protection legislation entirely.  However, this grade was given before the government’s latest announcement, of requiring post-secondary institutions to move to performance-based funding.

What this means is that, in future, universities will have a portion of their funding (15% this year, 40% by the next election) determined based on whether they meet 20 different performance measures, 19 of which are to be determined in negotiation between the institutions and the government and one metric will be allowed to be set by the students and stakeholders of the institution.

Measures being considered include enrolment, completion rates, graduate employment rates and salaries, sponsored research revenue, and others. This means, for instance, that if you’re looking to a faculty that doesn’t get a lot of business research revenue, there is a lot less incentive for the university to put any money into developing (or even maintaining) the quality of instruction there.  For AU, completion rates are particularly problematic because many people find that the self-directed nature of AU studies are simply too hard for them to manage.

However, what this has to do with red tape is that now, to ensure funding, post-secondary institutions will be required to do all kinds of activities related to measuring their own effects, as opposed to, you know, teaching.  They also will no longer be able to rely on any sort of stable, predictable funding, as a downturn in the economy might mean they miss various targets, and then get less funding for the next year. (And as a side note, does it make any sense to tie next year’s funding to this year’s employment performance?  If people are out of work, that’s when education needs more funding, not less, so that people can re-train and get back to work).

This means that prudent universities and colleges will never commit to programs that require a full budget for multiple years, as they can not predict whether the funding will be there for all of those years.  This will happen regardless of how much such an investment might help students, the institution, or Albertans.

So what we have is a way of forcing post-secondary institutions to cut spending on programs and students without ever having to claim that they’re doing it.  Which, when you think about it, is a pretty smart play.  Maybe that’s why Mr. Kenney thinks it’s a good idea. After all, it’s not like he needed any sort of post-secondary to become one of the most powerful men in the province.  You know, aside from Mark Little.  Enjoy the read!