The baby boom saw a massive expansion in university infrastructure around the globe. In Nova Scotia, the expanded education marketplace allowed us to maintain a broad range of universities as public institutions. Without the increase in demand, these institutions would potentially have had to close or amalgamate. The aging population and the demographic shift are now leading to another transformation in post-secondary education. Increased demand for more flexible education at a time of reduced government capacity is destabilizing the current policy framework, but also pointing the way to a new one.
In Universities in Nova Scotia: Constrain or Release?, author Juanita Spencer writes that now is the ideal time to test an alternative model for universities going forward. Assuming universities have three major roles to play – educate students, contribute to society, and contribute to the economy – the current policy environment does not sustainably allow universities to fulfill these roles in the long term.
Spencer proposes a funding model based on three blocks: base grants to universities, public investments in specific research and development efforts or economic projects and funding support for students – with the goal of gradually moving from the current 90/10 split of university/student funding to a 20/30/50 split, which ultimately puts more funds and control in the hands of students. She also proposes increasing university control over tuition, program choice and delivery, and enhancing funding accountability through establishing performance measures.
Given the history and current situation, moving to a funding model that recognizes and reflects the three core purposes of universities will require determination, as the stakeholders are entrenched and well organized. However, the government would be wise to recognize the importance of maintaining the quality and delivery of post-secondary education in Nova Scotia, and move forward with a new policy direction that emphasizes accountability and sustainability.
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