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.