Right this minute there are thousands of young Canadians over in southeast Asia teaching other people how to speak English. You probably know someone who’s doing that. My next guest says that trend is one example of how Canadian universities are letting students down and one very good reason to consider private universities. Kelvin Ogilvie was president of Acadia University, that’s in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. He was president there for ten years. His views were recently published in a paper written for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. Kelvin Ogilvie is on the line right now from Montreal. Good morning.


Good morning.

GILHOOLY: Let me start by expanding on the example I just gave. Why is the boom in teaching ESL as it’s known, why is that an indicator that the public system is failing?

Well I think the reality is that most of those graduates would greatly prefer to have an opportunity at a career in North America and usually preferably in Canada since they’re graduating from a Canadian university. And often they prefer if they had their druthers to get an opportunity in their home province. But the reality is that they took programs that either had very little substance to them or they didn’t do very well, they partied a lot and didn’t do very well in the program they were taking, or a combination of those two things and they had very little opportunity to obtain a career based on their university education.

But because they had graduated from a university and they speak English, generally, the opportunity . . .one of their opportunities and one of the few opportunities is to go abroad and teach English and generally in Asian countries.

GILHOOLY: Yeah, few probably had teaching English in Korea in mind when they were racking up student loans.

OGILVIE: Exactly.

GILHOOLY: That’s probably true. You write that universities have changed their focus over recent decades so now the emphasis is on faculty needs instead of student needs. Tell me more of what you mean by that.

OGILVIE: Well I think the real issue is the overall accountability of the institution. Very few people are really talking about what the university really provides to the student who goes there, very few young people look at their choice for university using the same kind of criteria they would for another major product. I mean if you were going to go out and say you’re going to go out and say you’re going to spend $60,000 on a consumer item, you would likely . . .and young people would likely investigate it very thoroughly to do that. But generally speaking they put very little effort into determining exactly what kind of tires they should be kicking in going to the university, they think about where their friends going, you know do their friends that they knew went there have fun. You know that kind of thing. The point is that even the consumer, the student, let alone their parents and society at large, bring very little scrutiny or accountability upon the institution and as a result the institutions have been able to simply drift forward in time on the public purse largely and that means that internal issues and the issues of the employees become the dominant issues within the institution. Not . . .

GILHOOLY: But can’t these faults be corrected inside the current system, why do we have to have a private university system?

OGILVIE: Well they certainly could be but there’s very little management experience in the country today in running a university in any other way except a continuous plea for money from government. And my position is that it will take a private university or some major trauma or a crisis in an existing public university in order to change things around. It won’t happen easily.

GILHOOLY: You spent a lot of your own career inside public institutions, public university. I’m curious why you have written this now.

OGILVIE: Well it’s based on that kind of experience. I have had forty years of experience in the . . .as a professional and of course a significant part of my life prior to that in the educational system from K, 12 through to PhD and so the document is written based on experience and experience in three provinces in this country.

GILHOOLY: You note that there aren’t any universities in Atlantic Canada ready for privatization right now, why not?

OGILVIE: Well I think it’s largely the will of the administration and the boards. I think there are three universities in Atlantic Canada that are excellent candidates to be a private university if the will were there to do so and I think they would be outstandingly successful if one of them were to choose that route. As you note in the report I’m not recommending that all Canadian universities be private at all, I’m suggesting that there may be an opportunity in Atlantic Canada for one and maybe a few across the country.

GILHOOLY: Yeah I’ve only got about thirty seconds here, did you say there were three that were possible, did you say? Which three?

OGILVIE: They would be Mt. Alison, Acadia and St. Francis Xavier.

GILHOOLY: And not Memorial.

OGILVIE: To be private.


OGILVIE: And I’m talking about private, not for profit. I don’t think any of them have the opportunity to be private for profit.

GILHOOLY: All right well have to leave it at that. Very interesting, I’m sure it will be kicked around quite a bit when this gets out. Thank you.

OGILVIE: Thank you.

GILHOOLY: Right, bye now.
Kelvin Ogilvie is a former president and chancellor of Acadia University, his latest paper is published by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.