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Stronger together

August 11, 2008

Penni Stewart, the new president of CAUT, has a most pertinent piece, “Towards a New Coalition Movement in Higher Education,” in the most recent CAUT Bulletin. Here are some highlights:

Often, issues that seem entirely local and which demand response from our member associations are manifestations of national and even international trends. One of CAUT’s important roles is to monitor the changing post-secondary political and organizational environment and provide advice to members. For example, across Canada employers are coming to the bargaining table with demands for more bureaucratic and extensive performance reviews. Seized with the immediate issue, a local association may not see beyond this to the general trend and the way these demands lead to increasing corporatization and loss of collegial governance.

CAUT has been active in monitoring and responding to “free trade” agreements, including the new General Agreement on Trade in Services and other free trade agreements. In last month’s Bulletin, we reported on a new OECD review of post-secondary education that is chilling in its embrace of performance reviews, targeted research funding and diminished institutional and professional autonomy. This is a perfect example of an international phenomenon that will have significant and detrimental local effects.

Contrary to rumours about a past golden age, life has never been easy or simple in the post-secondary sector, and there is no reason to think this will change. Chronic underfunding of higher education is now increasingly compounded by provincial allocation schemes that funnel money to government priorities while neglecting base funding. At the same time, federal funding programs are designed to buy maximum policy leverage while contributing as little as possible to the base cost of our institutions.

Funding is increasingly performance-based and competitive and justifiable public demands for accountability have been used as a rationalization for more centralized managerial control.

The increasing reliance on targeted research and institutional funds pits institutions against each other, eroding the close bonds among academic colleagues nationally and internationally. Universities are increasingly changing their authority structure. Academic senates are increasingly dominated by administrators, and their powers diminished in favour of higher level management.

Read the whole article.

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