Morning, all. Ready for the new school year run-down?
One thing already clear is that pretty much the whole sector has finally come to grips with the reality that annual 4% increases in funding aren’t coming back any time soon. That’s causing institutions to think more strategically than they’ve had to in a long time, which is a Good Thing – the downside is that there appears to be some places where this hard thinking is leading to some fairly ugly clashes between management and labour (hel-lo Windsor!). Contract negotiations this year could be very interesting.
Federally, the big story will likely be how to make the new Canada First Excellence Research Fund work. Yeah, remember that? Will it actually make big investments in big universities, the way its U-15 authors hoped? Or will the usual Canadian political dynamic intervene and turn it into something that distributes excellence funding more widely? My money’s on option 2, which means in a few years the U-15 will have to convince people to establish an even newer research fund-distributing body, with even tighter funding award criteria. Fun times.
The spring budget – the last before the next federal election – will almost certainly be about tax cuts, but it will be interesting to see if the feds think there’s something to be gained politically in more higher education spending. My guess is no, because CFERF was the Tories’ “big swing” for this mandate. Provincial budgets, I suspect, will all be status quo, but you never know. The fact is money’s tight, growth is slow, and almost no one (except possibly Alberta) is looking at good times ahead any time soon. Frankly, we’re only one good financial crisis away from some more swingeing cuts in public spending.
And speaking of swingeing cuts, some of those are on the table Down Under, along with a very radical plan to de-regulate tuition fees. I spent part of my summer in Australia and New Zealand learning about some of the many interesting policy developments going on there. Both countries – so similar to our own, yet with intriguing differences – have important lessons for Canadians on the higher education and skills files, and I’ll be talking a lot about them over the next few months, starting Thursday, with a two-part primer on the Australian de-regulation imbroglio.
One of our big summer projects at HESA towers has been following up on our Net Zero Tuition work with a much more detailed look at how students with specific profiles fare in all ten provinces. It’s possibly the most detailed look ever taken at how student financial assistance plays out on the ground with real students, and we’ll be releasing it tomorrow, and covering it on the blog both Tuesday and Wednesday. I look forward to the feedback.
But the real event to look forward to this fall is… the Worst Back-to-School Story of the Year Award! Now in its third year, this award highlights the most ludicrous, under-researched, over-egged story on higher education. Previous winners include Carol Goar and Gary Mason. So far this year the back-to-school journalism scene has been pretty quiet, so the field is wide open. Do send in any nominations to email@example.com.
Back to work!