“The first university that deliberately moves to private not-for-profit status would have a major marketing advantage in Canada and first-mover status for corporate and private philanthropy,” says Kelvin Ogilvie, former President and Chancellor of Acadia University in From Public U to Private U: An Atlantic Canadian Opportunity. He calls it an opportunity whose time has come, and now is the time to move.

In From Public U to Private U, Ogilvie points out that private universities tend to have a curriculum carefully organized to meet their clients’, that is the students’, demands and needs, rather than leaving such matters to the “whims of faculty”. He says Canada’s public universities are sheltered from accountability, because provincial governments feel obliged to ensure their continued operation rather than allow such institutions to fail, regardless of the satisfaction of their students or the quality of the education offered.

“Many universities seem to be run more for the benefit of faculty than of students,” Ogilvie says. A review shows that in these changing times of growing doubts and increasing demands, public universities are neither as nimble nor adaptable to meet the needs of the new client of higher education.

According to Ogilvie, who spent 10 years as the head of Acadia University, there is very little public accountability for programs or their content. Ogilvie suggests private universities, out of necessity, are accountable and their success measurable.

“In private universities, the performance and discipline of academic staff in the classroom tend to be much better scrutinized than in public universities, where administrators are often reluctant to set foot in the classroom and where vigorous labour unions typically influence the terms of employment,” he explains.

From Public U to Private U analyses the potential for private universities in Canada by examining six universities in Atlantic Canada: Acadia, Cape Breton, Mount St. Vincent, St. Francis Xavier, Mount Allison and the University of Prince Edward Island. Ogilvie concludes that none offers more than a limited opportunity to become a for-profit institution. However, a private not-for-profit university is not only possible, it may be inevitable through a gradual, almost accidental, evolution.

Through a review of finances, governance models and international experience, Public U to Private U provides suggestions on how a public university could move to not-for-profit private status. Ogilvie says what is required above all is a receptive organizational structure and a will to take the plunge.

He concludes, “For the future competitiveness of Canadian post-secondary education, however, the potential benefits could be significant.

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