Higher Education Strategy Associates

Tag Archives: Summer Break

June 15

School’s Out!

This is my last blog of the academic year.  I may post once or twice during the summer, if something big happens or if someone important says something titanically stupid and I need to vent, but otherwise I’ll keep your inboxes unsullied for a couple of months.  For those of you who have trouble drinking your 7AM (EST) coffee without reading this blog, my apologies, but it’s time for batteries to re-charge.

When I return on August 28th, it will be in a new format, with advertising.  I know, I know, but six years of doing this thing every day for free is probably enough.  If you have something – a conference or a service or a product – that you want to promote to a large and attentive higher education audience, do get in touch at info@higheredstrategy.com.

This was a below-par year for higher education, globally.  Brexit and Trump (and Xi, and Erdogan) called into question  some of the basic ideas underpinning internationalization.  No major government (to my knowledge, anyway) did anything particularly new or exciting in terms of investing in research and core funding, though there are some US states which seem to be upgrading their investments a bit.  We seem to be at the end of a long cycle of global higher education expansion and – Africa excepted, maybe – the focus is instead moving to efficiency and value for money.

In Canada, government support to institutions hummed along just below inflation while staff pay settlements kept growing at above inflation.  Cue more international students to fill the fiscal gap.  We’re so far into this cycle it seems impossible to ever stop.  But at some point, governments will call a stop to it and this ride is going to come to an end.  The fact that Agent May has been busted (three years ahead of schedule) in London and UK universities might once again be free to swing for the fences where international students are concerned should be a source of concern for everyone.  We’re about to have competition again, folks.   You ready?

Are things going to get better?  Well, on research the answer is probably yes.  It seems like the Government of Canada, in response to the Naylor Report, is going to spend more money on fundamental research, which is good.  The questions for next year are really: i) do the feds have the intellectual capacity to hold two thoughts in head at same time and invest both in fundamental and applied research at the same time and ii) how crazy is the super-cluster competition going to be?  But on the fundamental question of core funding for institutions, I think the answer is no.  Governments across the country and the political spectrum are wedded to the idea of starving institutions and giving more money to students.  Newfoundland is only the most egregious example.

But I’m optimistic.  I see more and more universities and colleges being increasingly strategic about their budgeting and operations.  I see money coming open internally as that long-delayed wave of retirements slowly starts to happen.  I see faculty associations (mostly – there are exceptions) moderating financial demands in light of prolonged financial difficulties.  And as always, I am constantly amazed at the dedication, brilliance and inventiveness of the tens of thousands of people who work in our post-secondary institutions.

And with those happy thoughts, I bid you all a good vacation.  And if you have any comments about the blog and how it’s been over the last year – what I should change, write more/less about – please do get in touch with me at alex at higheredstrategy dot com.  I am always eager for feedback.

Now, go play in the sun.

August 29

Welcome Back

Morning everyone.

We’re back for another term.  I hope everyone’s summer went well.  Let’s get started.

First, a quick round-up of the major events since I was last in the Daily blog business: on August 1, the new Canada Student Grants program came into effect, with all grants now 50% larger than they used to be (the offsetting bad news, the loss of a whole bunch of tax credits, kicks in on January 1).   The big Ontario scheme doesn’t kick in this year, but the New Brunswick Tuition Assistance Bursary (TAB) started at the same time as the federal program.  There’s a new Minister for Advanced Education in New Brunswick who has been given a mandate to re-engineer the TAB so that it’s design isn’t quite so cockamamie; that’s great news, but no word yet on if/when/how such a re-engineering might take place.

The new government in Ottawa hasn’t quite left its hyperactive phase, and so the government has been conducting two big consultations of note this summer, one on innovation policy and one on science policy.  The Innovation policy increasingly looks to me like a go-nowhere exercise, mainly because the Minister himself seems to have a very difficult time distinguishing “innovation” from “glitzy tech things”. Universities, of course, won’t mind this policy confusion (and may indeed be actively abetting it) because, if the government is going to be handing out money for glitzy tech things they’re going to be pretty close to the front of the line, regardless of what happens to actual innovation.

(An aside: I don’t have time to get into this now, but absolutely everyone interested in innovation policy  – especially our esteemed Minister – needs to go out and buy Mark Zachary Taylor’s The Politics of Innovation.  I’ll come back to this book later this week but suffice to say it’s a fantastic and important read.).

The other big issue in Ottawa this summer has been the increasingly weird and disturbing management flame-out at the Canadian Institute of Health Research.  Other granting councils are also dealing with stable-ish budgets (last year’s budget boost was welcome but in real dollars budgets are still below where they were in 2009) and increasing application rates, which are leading to ever-decreasing project success rates.  But only CIHR has chosen to deal with these challenges by simultaneously changing the criteria of its main funding programs AND pilotinga whole new adjudication system whose raison d’etre appears to be to avoid every piece of known good practice in terms of evaluating scientific proposals.  I’m not an expert on this stuff, so I urge you to read someone who is: Jim Woodgett, the Director of Research for the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Institute (for instance, this piece  and this one too).  How CIHR President Alain Beaudet has kept his job through all this nonsense is frankly a bit of a mystery; but the Minister’s office now seems to be aware of the scale of the catastrophe and so a trip to the high jump may not be far off.

Overseas the big news is mostly in the UK (Brexit and the implementation of the Teaching Excellence Framework, subjects to which I’ll return over the next couple of weeks).  Hillary Clinton made a campaign promise to ensure that 85% of American students can attend a public university tuition-free, but it isn’t getting lot of press because almost nobody believes it’ll ever happen.  Still, we seem to be in a moment where governments (Ontario, Chile, the US) are increasingly interested in making higher education explicitly free for low and middle-income students.  We’ll see who else follows that trend in the next few months.

Finally, I have one small announcement to make with respect to this blog.  As y’all know, providing the reading public with expert commentary (well, commentary anyway) is a bit of a time sink.  But also, thanks to Statistics Canada’s cost-recovery policies, it’s a money sink as well.  I know many if not most of you dig this blog primarily for the data analyses – and I prefer writing data-pieces to think pieces – but the costs of obtaining that data are getting higher all the time. 

I’ve never really tried to monetize this blog the way Academica’s Top Ten does with its job posting thing; it seems like a hassle and it annoys some readers.  But equally, I can’t really justify blowing money on the blog either, and I need about $2500/year to get the data necessary to keep the interesting stats pieces coming.  So at some point in the next few weeks, I am going to launch a crowdfunding effort to raise that amount.  If you like the data work I do and think it’s valuable for policy discussions in Canadian higher education, please consider donating.   There will be tchotchkes.

That’s it.  Have a great term everyone.