Manitoba drops plans to tie post-secondary education funding to performance

The Manitoba government says it’s backing off controversial plans to tie funding for universities and colleges to performance metrics after various university stakeholders raised concerns. 

In recent years, the Progressive Conservative government has repeatedly signalled its intention to explore some sort of performance-based funding model for post-secondary education, tying funding dollars to metrics such as student completion rates and graduate employability instead of its current lump-sum grant payment system. 

That was in response to a 2020 auditor general’s report that suggested government oversight over post-secondary schools was lacking.

Last year, the province launched a consultation process on what it called a post-secondary accountability framework, which it suggested could include performance metrics and linking performance with funding.

A letter from Advanced Education and Training Minister Sarah Guillemard to university stakeholders, dated April 28, says the provincial government is still looking into ways to boost accountability for post-secondary institutions, but tying funding to performance-based metrics won’t be a part of it. 

“We have heard your concerns regarding linking performance based metrics to funding,” Guillemard’s letter said.

The Progressive Conservative government “has taken a step back and revaluated some aspects of this project, including the proposal to introduce an outcomes-based funding system as part of the post-secondary accountability framework,” she said.

Various university stakeholders had raised concerns about the plan, saying it could have unintended, negative consequences. 

For example, if universities and colleges are under pressure to get more students to graduate within a specific time frame, they could become less accessible for some students, since institutions may then prioritize those who are most likely to graduate, said Scott Forbes, president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations. 

“That makes their metrics look good on paper, but what it does is it raises barriers to traditionally marginalized students,” he said, adding that research has also shown that these models don’t always makes post-secondary institutions more efficient, either. 

“So the fact that it reduces accessibility, the fact that it doesn’t work, it was from our perspective a non-starter from the get-go.”

There were also concerns that such a plan could influence institutions to prioritize certain programs at the expense of others, said Peter Miller, president of the University of Winnipeg Faculty Association. 

“We’re always concerned about anything that could possibly direct students to take certain programs or interfere with the autonomy of institutions to establish the programs they want,” he said. 

Accountability measures 

Moving forward, Guillemard promised more consultations, including an online public survey later this year, as the province explores other measures to boost accountability for universities and colleges. 

“We want to… focus on exploring what accountability looks like and what measures would be acceptable to partners in this field so that we can address the … [auditor general’s] recommendations together,” Guillemard’s letter said.

Forbes, with Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations, said he supported those efforts, especially in light of the financial crisis that gripped Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., which filed for insolvency in February 2021.

“We’re 100 per cent in agreement with greater accountability, greater financial accountability, so everyone can look at the books and see what the true state of the financial situation of our universities is.”

A spokesperson for the University of Manitoba said the university has, and continues to have, productive conversations with the minister around these proposed accountability measures.