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U of O among 44 schools to pick five programs for increased funding

photo by Marta Kierkus

After nearly a year of deliberation, the University of Ottawa and 43 other Ontario post-secondary schools each released a Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA) detailing the areas in which they plan to specialize.

Following the differentiation policy framework implemented last fall, the agreements required each institution to acknowledge their 10 strongest programs, and choose five to expand and specialize.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities said in a statement that these agreements will “strongly inform future decisions, including allocation decisions and program approvals.”

The U of O identified its proposed growth and specialization in five areas: management and communication, science and engineering, environment, public policy, and health.

In a statement the university said that they and the Ministry are “committed to working together to support student access, quality, and success; focus the strengths of the institution; and maintain a financially sustainable post-secondary education system.”

The ministry adopted the new policy in hopes that program specialization will prevent overlapping programs, allowing for a few quality programs at one school instead of multiple, less developed options.

“Now is the time to focus attention on increasing quality of education in certain areas that our post-secondary institutions have identified as their strong points,” Reza Moridi, Ontario’s minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, told the Globe and Mail.

In a January interview with the Fulcrum, U of O president Allan Rock said the new policy is “not an unreasonable way to go,” and not that far-fetched, either.

“For decades, universities and faculties have been developing profiles that reflect special profiles, special strengths,” he said. “It’s always been that way.”

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) published a report that contradicts the government of Ontario’s specialization plan.

The report says that specialization would “result in decreased access and compromise academic freedom and institutional autonomy.”

The council argues that differentiated post-secondary institutions provide the better quality education.

The SMA also stipulates an increase in the number of graduate students the province will pay for per program, with specialized programs gaining more funding and more students. Some programs, however, may have entry suspended.

The U of O will add 134 spots for students in master’s programs and another 96 for PhD students for 2016–17. At least 15 spots will be reserved for postgraduate students in one of the five specialized programs.

In the SMA, the university states extra funding will also mean more international research collaborations in the specialized programs. The U of O has plans to partner with universities in China, Israel, Germany, and France.

The agreements act as a guideline for expansion—they do not specify how much funding each institution will receive from the provincial government.

“We cannot expand in the same way now given the reality of the day, so we have to work together to make sure the money we spend will benefit students,” said Moridi.

Rock said in the winter that the province will apply metrics to measure each university’s performance in its selected areas of specialization.

“In the long term, the government may tie funding to our performance under those metrics, as sort of a carrot to make sure we comply,” he said.

The agreements will run for three years from 2014 to 2017. They can be found on the ministry’s website.