Educational policy analysis archives

Educational policy analysis archives

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Educational policy analysis archives
Arizona State University
University of South Florida
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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 5, no. 22 (December 09, 1997).
Tempe, Ariz. :
b Arizona State University ;
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida.
c December 09, 1997
Changing definitions and off-loading responsibility in Alberta's post-secondary system / Robert J. Barnetson.
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University of South Florida.
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1 of 15 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 5 Number 22December 9, 1997ISSN 1068-2341A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal. Editor: Gene V Glass Glass@ASU.EDU. College of Education Arizona State University,Tempe AZ 85287-2411 Copyright 1997, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES.Permission is hereby granted to copy any a rticle provided that EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES is credited and copies are not sold. Changing Definitions and Off-loading Responsibilit y in Alberta's Post-Secondary SystemRobert J. Barnetson Alberta College-Institutes Faculties Association Alberta, Canada Abstract The introduction of a performance-based fundin g mechanism by Alberta's provincial government alters the public definition of "educati onal quality" and fully shifts the responsibility for declining educational quality fr om the provincial government onto institutions. This article outlines the process by which the provincial government has compelled institutions to accept this redefinition and transfer despite the substantial loss of institutional autonomy it entails. The implications of this change are explored and possible reasons are suggested. Introduction The introduction of performance indicators (PI s) in Alberta's performance-based funding mechanism has changed the definition of education q uality and fully shifted the responsibility for providing a high-quality post-se condary education onto institutions. This ignores the pivotal role government funding plays i n maintaining educational quality. One result of this process is a significant loss of ins titutional autonomy. A second result has been the imposition of a market model on education that shifts responsibility for education from government to individuals. Background Alberta's public service has recently undergone a massive downsizing as the provincial


2 of 15government has eliminated its deficit through reduc tions in public spending. The decline in government funding to the post-secondary education (PSE) system totaled 21% between 1994 and 1997 (AECD, 1994). When coupled with spira ling enrollments and stagnant provincial funding, Alberta's 21 public colleges, u niversities and technical institutes have seen per-student, constant-dollar funding fall from $6165 in 1980/81 to $3267 in 1996/97--a reduction of 47% in 17 years. Funding and enrollmen t projections through 2005 suggests this pattern will hold (AAE, 1992; Treasury, 1997). This trend in post-secondary funding has occur red worldwide and concurrently with the contraction of the welfare state. This suggests a r eturn to the classically liberal approach to government where liberty is defined as "freedom fro m restraint" in contrast to the reform liberal definition of liberty as the "freedom to ac t" (Gibbins and Youngman, 1996). This shift has been caused (or, alternately, legitimized ) by large government deficits and debts. Debt and deficit; revenue and expenses Upon election in 1993, Alberta's government fa ced a substantial deficit and growing debt--the legacy a decade of upheaval in oil and ga s prices--and set about attempting to reduce government expenditures. Government rhetoric about spiraling public-sector costs as the prime cause of both the debt and deficit, accor ding to Kevin Taft, is largely inaccurate: overall government spending had been declining sinc e 1986. "Â…(former premier Don) Getty's government had kept this decline fairly quiet, still wanting Albertans to believe they were getting 'the best' from their province, an expectation strongly engendered during the Lougheed years. As a result, the public was still under the misconception that Alberta spen t far more than other provinces." The public belief that programs were still ric h, reinforced by a strong public opposition to tax increases left open a whole new strategy for (current) Premier (Ralph) Klein's incoming government. He and his ministers strongly reinforced the mistaken perception that spending was out of control and argued vigorously t o cut expenditures (Taft, 1997, p. 12). Between 1986 and 1992, Getty's cuts saw government spending fall by 15% (adjusted for inflation) and, by fiscal 1991/92, Alberta spent $4 593 per capita on public services as compared to the Canadian average of $4758 (McMillia n and Warrack, 1995). Yet, in June 1994, Klein told the Edmonton Journal, "When our go vernment took over a year and a half ago, we saw uncontrolled spending" (Taft, 1997, p. 25). Cooper and Neu (1995) suggest that the real rea son that expenditures had outstripped revenues during the Getty years was that the govern ment was not only feeling the effects of the low resource prices, but also the effects of gr anting the oil-and-gas lobby tax breaks as oil prices fell. This means that the government rec eived lower royalties because of lower prices and also absorbed a portion of the oil-and-g as companies' losses (due to these same lower prices) by accepting a lesser percentage of t he sale price in royalties. McMillian and Warrack (1995) note that the gove rnment had three way to compensate for its deficit: (a) reducing public expenditures, (b) increasing revenues or (c) a combination of reducing expenses and increasing revenue. The de cision to concentrate on the expense side of the government balance sheet (to preserve t he Alberta Advantage of low taxes) was a conscious decision (as opposed to being the neces sity Klein often portrays it as) and reflects the political difficulty of selling tax in creases to Albertans used to low taxes. The Alberta Advantage: Rhetoric or Reality? The Alberta Advantage is premised on "a powerfu l combination of low taxes, fiscally responsible government, abundant natural resources and a well-educated workforce" (Klein,


3 of 151996). The Klein government's belief that low taxes stimulate business and consumer spending explains why it has focused solely on redu cing expenditures to balance the budget rather than also attempting to increase revenues by raising taxes. The dogmatic belief that low taxes attract inve stment in Alberta by companies runs contrary to conventional approaches to estimating t he profitability of locating businesses in a region (Drugge, 1995). The corporate sector estim ates profitability based upon the possibility of high-volume sales combined with acce ss to low-cost, high-quality inputs and inexpensive transportation. Further, evidence gathe red over the past 15 years clearly demonstrates that a low-tax approach to economic de velopment (the basis of the Alberta Advantage) has not been successful in Alberta. McMillian and Warrack (1995) note that Alberta' s taxes were lower than any other province prior to Klein's election (approximately 7 5% of the Canadian average) and had been kept this low by the presence of natural resou rces revenues for the past decades. (In 1993/94, Alberta received approximately 40.3 per ce nt of its revenue from individual and corporate taxes while the Canadian average was 61.3 per cent. The difference was largely made up of the taxes assessed on the extraction of natural resources.) If low taxes do stimulate economic growth in Alberta, there should be evidence in Alberta's growth through the 1980s. Between 1981 and 1993, Alberta's average annual growth in retail sales was 0.3 per cent, substantially lower than that of higher-tax British Columbia (1.3 per cent) and lower than the Canadian average of 0.7 per cent (Drugge, 1995) Average annual real business investment in Alberta during this period (investmen t in plants, machinery and equipment) was -3.0 per cent, while in British Columbia it was 1.4 per cent and the Canadian average was 2.9 percent. The average annual real growth rat e in Alberta from 1981 to 1993 was 0.6 per cent. British Columbia had a 2.9 per cent growt h rate and the Canadian average was 2.5 per cent. What this analysis demonstrates is that Alberta 's low-tax strategy has been unsuccessful in stimulating growth. This is because Alberta's ec onomy is largely tied to the natural resources market and a low-tax strategy lacks the p ower to successfully counter the fluctuations in the resource market. The Alberta Ad vantage does not work in Alberta. In 1990/91, Alberta personal and corporate taxe s equaled $2885 per capita (McMillian and Warrack, 1995). The Canadian average was $3681. Additionally, Alberta has a tax capacity approximately 33 per cent greater than the Canadian average, meaning having taxes comparable to the rest of Canada would have a ctually netted the government $4331. Given that low taxes have little ability to stimula te growth in a resourcedominated economy, raising them towards the Canadian average in conjunction with reductions in public spending provides a balanced solution to the revenue problem without unduly burdening taxpayers. This solution has been success fully implemented in the neighboring province of Saskatchewan. Further, by adjusting both revenues and expendi tures, Alberta could have maintained its investment in human capital that business owners ra nk as vastly more important in business success than low taxes. The assault on Alberta's in vestment in "human capital negatively affects precisely those f eatures such as quality of labour and management noted as the key resources of econom ic success in the small business surveys cited above. These expenditure red uctions must therefore raise serious questions about the underlying logic of the government's policies." (Drugge, 1995, p. 189). The importance of resource revenue in Alberta' s budget further suggests that spending on


4 of 15public programs wasn't the source of the deficit bu t that low tax revenues were. And attempting to control the deficit solely by cutting public-sector spending in order to avoid tax increases makes no sense. That the government d id not take note of the economic lessons of the Getty years (because of its fixation on the politically saleable Alberta Advantage) and drastically down-sized the public se ctor at the expense of the province's economic future, suggests either incompetence or pr iorities other than ensuring the economic success of every Albertan through access t o public services like postsecondary education. Per-student funding and the changing role of gover nment Returning to the earlier discussion of the effe ct of ideological change on the degree of responsibility assumed by society for providing a p ost-secondary education system, the disaggregation of responsibility for the reform lib eralist "freedom to act" can be seen in the government's human resource strategy, People and Pr osperity: Continuous learning and the updating of skills is a shared responsibility. The primary onus is on individual Albertans, but strategies are needed to help them access learning opportunities and obtain the skills and knowledge t hey need to be successful. Student assistance ensures that financial barriers do not a ct as a deterrent to Albertans pursuing adult learning. Alberta's schools, univers ities, colleges and technical institutes play a key role in our human-resource st rategy. Schools are responsible for providing education programs that develop individua l potential and prepare young Albertans for daily living, the world of work and lifelong learning. Adult learning institutions have a responsibility to provide highquality, accessible learning opportunities to people who are preparing for caree rs and to those who wish to update their skills. Employers, employee groups and union s have a responsibility to facilitate learning opportunities in the workplace (Governmen t of Alberta, 1997a, p. 10). Notably absent is the government's share of re sponsibility for continuous learning and the updating of skills. Implicitly, this excerpt su ggests that the government is responsible for providing student assistance to ensure accessib ility, however, student assistance is increasingly in the form of loans (which are now ad ministered by banks) thus accessibility is being bought by Albertans at the cost of assumin g large personal debts. It could also be argued that the government is implicitly agreeing t o fund schools and adult-learning institutions. But, as noted above, per-student gove rnment grants have been in a period of long-term and significant decline. Educational quality and the implications of fun ding reductions While defining quality is difficult, Harvey and Green (1993) outline five bro ad approaches to the concept: 1. The classical view of quality as transformatio n sees it in terms of change from one state to another (i.e. a high-quality PSE woul d transform a student into a different person). 2. The exceptional perspective sees quality a som ething special and is closely associated with the idea of excellence attainable b y very few; 3. Quality as perfection equates quality with a c onsistent or flawless outcome; 4. The fitness for purpose approach defines quali ty as meeting the needs of the customer or end-user; and 5. Quality as value for money emphasizes quality as the return on investment. The traditional view of quality (i.e. the trans formative ability of education) is most


5 of 15consistent with Canadian higher education. The purp ose higher education has been to develop students' knowledge, skills, and attitudes and the process (involving introspection, synthesis and integration) has varied according to the experience, aptitude and motivation of the students. This differs from market-based con cepts of quality in that something is being done to the consumer as opposed to something being done for the consumer. By changing the consumer (and, presumably, the consume r's references) during the process, higher education violates the assumption of pre-exi stent purpose necessitated by the rationality inherent in market models of decision-m aking (Harvey and Green, 1993; Stone, 1988; March, 1976; March and Olsen, 1976). With the classical definition of quality in min d, there are three preconditions for a high-quality post-secondary education system: a) PSE must be accessible for students such that levels of tuition and net debt at graduation do not deter students from pursuing educ ation and training according to their aptitude. b). Public colleges, universities and technical in stitutions must be able to attract and retain high-quality teachers and researchers. c) Institutions must be able to provide adequate infrastructure, including an appropriate physical plant and modern equipment and information resources for students. Declining per-student funding has impaired the ability of Alberta's PSE system to provide a high-quality education. Accessibility In constant 1995 dollars, tuition and fees at The University of Calgary (one of Alberta's three research-focused universities) will have incr eased from $1326 in 1989 to $3837 in 1999 (UCSU, 1996). This 189% increase is mirrored a t the Universities of Alberta and Lethbridge. College and technical-institute student s have seen similar changes. For example, annual tuition at Grant MacEwan Community College rose 174% between 1989 and 1997, jumping from just over $500 to nearly $17 00 while Red Deer College students will have seen tuition jump by 227% between 1989 an d 1998. Net student debt at graduation is also increasi ng with average student debt at graduation (of those students with loans) rising from $6076 in 1987 to $11,604 in 1995 (AAE, 1990; UCSU, 1996). University-student debt in 1996 averag ed $15,518 while college students averaged $9172 and technical-institute students ave raged $8752 (AECD, 1997e). Statistics Canada data on university tuition an d participation rates suggests that costs associated with post-secondary education have risen faster than the resources available to students (Little, 1997). From 1989 to 1994, the per centage of an average family's income that an average tuition assessment comprised rose f rom 3.1% to 4.9%. Nationally, between 1984 and 1995, tuition increased (in real dollars) by 75% while Canada Student Loan allotments increased by only 55%. The declining rat es of employment of 20to 24-year-olds (73% 1989, 65% in 1994) and stagnant wage levels m ean that students may be leery of assuming long-term debt that they will be unable to manage upon graduation. For example, in 1993/94, 23% of students owing money of loans d efaulted (Calgary Herald, 1994). Many students groups suggest that high levels o f tuition and debt are barriers to accessibility (ACTISEC, 1997). Their contention may have some statistical support in a recent Statistics Canada report that notes a declin e in overall enrollment levels after 1993. While the percentage of 19to 24-year-olds enrolle d has continued to increase, this increase has slowed significantly (Little, 1997). A survey o f high -school graduates in Alberta noted


6 of 15that 38% of graduates not planning on pursuing a po st-secondary education were making that choice for financial reasons while 64% of resp ondents agreed that post-secondary education was getting too expensive (Krahn and Lowe 1997). High-Quality Teachers and Researchers Alberta's colleges, universities and technical institutes will need to replace approximately 40% of their faculty over the next 10 years due to an uneven age distribution (AAS:UA, 1995). Low salaries as compared to other provinces and industries combined with poor working conditions will make this a challenging tas k. In a 1985/86 ranking of 18 Canadian universitie s, mean salaries at the Universities of Alberta and Calgary placed second and fourth, respe ctively. By 1995/96, the U of A had slipped to 16th place while the U of C occupied 17 th (Robb, 1997). Corrected for inflation, salaries at the U of A have actually dec lined slightly in the same time-frame (AAS:UA, 1996). The wage gap between positions in Alberta and positions in British Columbia and Ontario means that, assuming current c onditions hold, faculty in Alberta earn nearly $200,000 less over the course of their lifetime (CAUT, 1996). While wages for faculty across the country have stagnated or declin ed, Alberta's decline has been relatively more rapid. This has been exacerbated by declining infrastructure (see below). College and technical-institute faculty face a similar wage-gap with their counterparts in Ontario and British Columbia earning 20-25% more at each step of the salary grid (personal communication, Evelyn Wieland, 25 June 1997; person al communication, David Piasta, 4 June 1997). Colleges and technical-institutes also face substantial competition from other industries for the professionals who are potential faculty. Instructors at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology can expect to make $40,000 per year but can command salaries of up to $80,000 in high-demand industries (Avery, 19 97). This wage disparity resulted in, for example, the loss of the entire faculty complement in the province's only Crane and Hoist program to industry during the summer of 1997 (per sonal communication, Terry Sway, 13 September 1997). Faculty throughout Alberta are also facing incr easing workloads because of rising teacher-to-student ratios. At the University of Alb erta, the teacher-to-student ratio increased by 20% between 1991 and 1995 (AAS:UA, 1996). At the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, the ratio jumped by 88% between 1992 an d 1995 (SAIT, 1996). In addition to generating greater workloads, ri sing faculty-to-student ratios decreases the quality of education provided. Research in Canadian universities suggests that classroom technique is the key determinant of educational out comes (Gilbert, 1995). This ignores that classroom technique is largely determined by class size: for example, it is easier to encourage discussion and interaction in a class of 30 than in a class of 100. Besides forcing changes to less effective instructional techniques, increasing class sizes alters evaluation from written exams (that test students' ability to apply their knowledge and skills to novel problems) to multiple-choice tests (that emphasize the ability to associate concepts and commit information to short-term memory). Infrastructure In 1993, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Career Development estimated the deferred infrastructure investment on its $4 billio n capital stock to be approximately $400 million (AECD, 1993). Deferred investment in infras tructure encompasses every aspect of institutional infrastructure from building maintena nce and replacement to renewing library and equipment stocks. This issue (despite a recent $105 million injection into the system by the government over three years) remains significan t and impacts student learning and faculty recruitment (AECD, 1997a).


7 of 15 Performance-Based Funding in Alberta's PSE System As part of the provincial government's 1994 Whi te Paper on PSE, the government committed the Ministry to develop a reporting frame work that assessed the outcomes of PSE in an effort to improve the accountability of t he system for the funding it received. This was tied to a commitment to develop a performance-b ased funding mechanism designed to "reward performance and productivity in publicly su pported postsecondary education" (AECD, 1994, p. 15). By late 1996, the goals for th e funding mechanism had become "to reward performance and promote excellence" (AECD, 1 996, p. 3) While a substantial number of measures of accou ntability existed within the system prior to 1994, they largely focused on inputs and process (AECD, 1995). Specific criticisms of then-existing measures of accountability included: a) a lack of systematic use; b) inadequate information provision to prospecti ve students about educational outcomes; c) not providing basic information, such as cost information, at the program level; and d) inconsistent inter-institutional data definit ions impeding comparisons. Institutional consultations developed a series of 76 of Performance Indicators (PIs) to meet the requirements of the accountability framewo rk. Nine of these indicators are considered Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and ar e utilized in a performance-based funding mechanism (four indicators apply only to un iversities' research mandate) that allots each institution an additional 1-2.5% of its operat ing grant based on its KPI scores (AECD, 1996). Alberta performance-based funding mechanism Alberta's performance-based funding mechanism ( PBFM) takes institutional performance on each of a series of performance indicators and c ompares it to benchmarks. Points are awarded to an institution for its performance on ea ch indicator, the overall institutional score is tallied and additional funding is awarded based on an institution's ranking against all other institutions' scores. Using the enrollment indicator as an example, u rban institutions that saw enrollment fall by more than -2% received zero points. Enrollment c hanges between -2% and 0% received 20 points. Enrollment increases between 0% and 4% r eceived 25 points and enrollment increases greater than 4% garnered a full 30 points Each institutions' score on the enrollment indicator would be added to its scores o n the other indicators to create an overall assessment of performance that would then be compar ed against the scores of other institutions. The nine indicators used fell into four categor ies: responsiveness, accessibility, affordability and (for universities only) research excellence (AECD, 1997b). What follows is a brief explanation of each group of indicators. Responsiveness The responsiveness of the system to changing e conomic, social and cultural needs is measured by two indicators: the employmen t rates of graduates and


8 of 15graduates' satisfaction with their program. Accessibility The indicator measuring accessibility focuses on institutions' ability to maintain and improve the enrollment levels. This i ndicator is a near-perfect (.95) predictor of overall KPI performance thus ge nerates immense pressure for institutions to further increase enrollment. Affordability The two indicators measuring affordability exa mine the ability of institutions to minimize administrative costs and generate reve nue from sources other than tuition from credit programs and government grants No measure of affordability to learners is made. Research excellence Four indicators measure the performance of Alb erta's three research-focused universities. Institutions' national peer-group ran king per full-time faculty member in terms of council monetary awards, citati ons per research publication, and community and industrial funding are measured, as well as sponsored revenues as a percentage of government o perating grants. Quality in Alberta's PSE System Alberta's performance-based funding mechanism, with its mandate to "encourage and reward excellence", both redefines the public's not ion of high-quality education and shifts the full responsibility for providing it on to indi vidual institutions (AECD, 1996, p. 1). Redefining Quality Performance indicators draw on an industrial m etaphor of production and focus on input-out analysis (Emberley, 1996). This approach assumes that (1) inputs (e.g. iron, wood, etc.) are uniform and passive and (2) outputs (e.g. beams, tables, etc.) are standardized therefore making it is possible to find a best (i.e maximally effective and efficient) way to transform inputs into outputs by comparing differen t approaches in a purely statistical manner. If the inputs and outputs are variable then a common metric by which to measure is necessary for PIs to make valid comparisons between processes. For example, the appropriateness of sports cars and sedans for vario us purposes-with inputs (i.e. design) and outputs (i.e. performance) that vary substantia lly-can be compared based on common metrics like fuel efficiency (km/l) and speed-time measures (kmh). Education provides neither uniform inputs and outputs nor common metrics. Students and instructors (i.e. inputs) are neither passive n or uniform. Graduates (i.e. outputs) are similarly unique in the degree to which students' k nowledge, skills and attitudes can be developed and for what ends. The process (involving introspection, synthesis and integration) is similarly variable according to stu dents' experiences, aptitudes and motivation and resistant to universal performance m etrics (although it may be possible to specify measures appropriate to narrow subfields al ong the lines of professional designation exams). Attempting to make valid assessments of per formance based solely on statistical calculation will yield a less than optimal judgment In an attempt to get around the conceptual and operational difficulties posed by outcomes-based performance indicators, Alberta's go vernment has focused on the more easily quantifiable economic outcomes and ignored e ducation's social and cultural


9 of 15outcomes. This vast omission is dismissed with "the social and cultural outcomes, while important, have not been clearly articulated" (AECD 1996, p. 6). Given the importance of the social and cultural outcomes of education, it i s unlikely that the government would fail to articulate them without reason. One explanation for this omission is that intractable problems associated with developing quantitative PI s for social and cultural outcomes. Another explanation is that, from the perspective o f the market model, education is solely an economic good thus measurement should focus on t his aspect. By using quantitative measures of quality, KPIs shift the definition of q uality from that of transformative to quality as value for money and as fitness for purpo se. The two outcomes of PSE in Alberta that are mea sured are the employment rate of graduates and the satisfaction of graduates with th eir program. The satisfaction of graduates with their program suggests a fitness for purpose o rientation to quality: is the customer satisfied? Measuring employment rates is yet anothe r measure that reflects the fitness for purpose approach to quality: if one goal of (most) students is to be employed (Barnetson, 1997), the employment rates of graduates are simply a proxy measure for customer satisfaction. It is the very idea of performance-based fundin g that suggests a value for money approach to quality. According to the government, a performance-based funding approach means Albertans are getting maximum returns on thei r investment in postsecondary education" (AECD, 1997c, p. 7). By emphasizing customer satisfaction and the ec onomic success of graduates, the government has subtly redefined the concept of qual ity such that it excludes traditional indicators of quality. The declines in accessibilit y, quality of faculty, and infrastructure that are the direct result of the long-term reduction in per-student funding from the provincial government are completely ignored by KPIs and the g overnment can thus neatly side-step criticism (based on these grounds) that the quality of post-secondary education has declined. Further, by selecting measures such as satisfac tion and the employment rates of graduates as indicators of quality--indicators that instituti ons historically have done well by--the government creates data that justifies its substant ial reduction to postsecondary funding. The high score of almost every institution on every indicator seems to support the government's contention that the post-secondary sys tem is as good (if not better) than it was before the 21% reduction to its funding between 199 4 and 1997. During the press conference announcing the perf ormance awards, Minister for Advanced Education and Career Development Clint Dunford expl ained, "We believe that striving towards the goals will promote continuous improveme nt at individual institutions and throughout the system. Based on our results, thus f ar, excellent progress is being made" (AECD, 1997d, p. 2). That the lack of baseline data makes the contention of progress impossible to prove or disprove simply gets ignored in light of high levels of institutional performance. Also glossed over is that the level of institutional performance was guaranteed by government selection and pretesting: the governm ent sets the levels of performance that are labeled as indicative of "excellence." Off-loading Responsibility for Quality Education By measuring each institution's performance on KPIs, the government subtly shifts the full responsibility for the provision of high-quali ty education onto the institution itself. Institutions are measured on their ability to turn out employable, satisfied graduates in increasing numbers. The nature of the measurement a ttributes the responsibility for an institution's performance to the institution when, in reality, the ability of an institution to improve its performance is largely constrained by e nvironmental factors. Continually shrinking per-student government funding, declining granting council budgets and limited


10 of 15alternative revenue streams for institutions create s circumstances that impair institutions' ability to provide accessible programs staffed by h igh-quality teachers and researchers and supported by adequate infrastructure. Again, the government neatly sidesteps criticis m. Not only are institutions generally doing exceptional jobs according to the KPI perform ance evaluations, but those institutions that "require" improvement are assigned responsibil ity for it. According to the government brief on the KPI system, "There are areas for impro vement and institutions will be expected to focus on those in the future" (AECD, 1997c, p. 7 ). Loss of Institutional Autonomy Government control of the post-secondary pursestrings is substantial and has both created a desperate need within institutions for ad ditional funding (by reducing annual operating grants by approximately $250 million betw een 1994 and 1997) and proffered a partial remedy (though the $15-million performancefunding envelope). In order for institutions to receive the remedy, however, they m ust accept both the government's redefinition of quality (an unprecedented infringem ent on institutional autonomy that shifts considerable indirect control over program objectiv es and delivery methods from institutions to the government) and the transfer of responsibility for declining educational quality from the government (that created the initi al decline in quality through long-term budget cuts) to the institution. By initially acquiescing to the government's pe rformance-based funding mechanism, institutions have surrendered a substantial amount of their autonomy in exchange for the return of less than 5% of the funding the governmen t removed from the system between 1994 and 1997. Government is now free to change bot h the level of institutional performance it considers acceptable on any current indicators and introduce additional KPIs from the 67 other PIs it is collecting data on. Thi s could include the introduction of an indicator stipulating mandatory completion rates (a KPI that was dropped from the performance-envelope calculation only weeks before the final tallying of institutional scores) that would pressure institutions to graduat e students regardless of performance and infringe upon academic autonomy. Pressure has alrea dy been applied to faculty in Red Deer College's University transfer program who were told by their Board of Governors in the spring of 1997 to increase their completion rates ( rates that were already equivalent to those of both of the province's major universities) or ri sk program closure (personal communication, Jim Scott, 1 June 1997) This transfer of power has gone virtually unnot iced in both the media and institutions. For example, no concern has been raised regarding t he overwhelming importance of the enrollment indicator on overall institutional KPI p erformance (as outlined above) despite the substantial pressure it exerts on institutions to increase enrollment without additional per-student funding increases to their base grant. The educational consequences of this (e.g. larger classes, fewer assignments and less instruct or-student contact) are substantial and negative, however, ironically, this is considered a n indicator of quality by the performance-funding mechanism. Redefinition of purpose in education The changes in how educational quality is defi ned and who is responsible for ensuring it created by KPIs suggests that there is a general re definition of educational purpose occurring. The liberal-arts tradition that has driv en post-secondary education is incompatible with government changes in health care social services and other areas where citizens are being reframed as customers. The incre ase in government control over educational content and method of delivery facilita ted by KPIs reduces the barriers the


11 of 15government faces in imposing a market model on the PSE system. If students are thought of as consumers of edu cation, the important concept of entitlement is removed from the debate (personal co mmunication, Raj Pannu, 12 September 1997). A consequence of this change is the eliminat ion of the government's responsibility for providing education: education is a commodity ( to be purchased by the individual) rather than a right (to be provided by society). Cast as an economic good, education then has va lue only in economic terms. The most apparent economic outcome of increasing levels of e ducation is increasingly favorable employment outcomes thus education is valued solely in terms of its return on investment and becomes indistinguishable from one of its outco mes: job training. As an economic good, there is no value placed on social or cultura l outcomes; indeed, there isn't even a framework in which to discuss them as anything more than trivia byproducts of a fundamentally economic process. If education is framed as job training (which e mphasizes the accrued personal benefits of higher salaries and levels of employment and downpl ays the societal benefits of higher quality of life), responsibility for obtaining educ ation (and overcoming the barriers to obtaining it) shifts onto the individual. This disa ggregation of responsibility (when carried out across all sectors of government) creates an en vironment whereby competition between individuals replaces cooperation as the basis of so ciety (Kohn, 1992). This approach ignores that cooperation is the fundamental assumption of s ociety and that competition disproportionately favors those with greater person al resources. This same group is further and differentially benefited by the tax reductions made possible by lower government expenditures on education and other public services (McQuaig, 1996). Conclusions The quality of education (i.e. its transformati ve ability) provided by Alberta's postsecondary system is declining as a result of long-t erm declines in per-student government funding. The government's KPI-based funding mechani sm changes the definition of education quality which obfuscates public discussio n and thereby deflects criticism. At the same time, this mechanism off-loads the responsibil ity for providing a high-quality post-secondary education to institutions and ignore s the instrumental role of government funding. Institutions have been compelled to accept this change by the financial power of the government--the same power that created the initial decline in educational quality--and as a result have surrendered substantial institutional a utonomy. The loss of institutional autonomy facilitates the imposition of a market mod el into the education sector. The market model sees education in terms of its economic outco mes thus redefining education as job training. This shifts responsibility for education from government to the individual thereby engendering competition between differentially adva ntaged consumers. At the same time, it trivializes debate about the social and cultural ou tcomes of education because the market model cannot accommodate serious discussion of nonquantifiable outcomes. References AAE. (1990). Tuition fee policy review: A discussi on paper. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alberta, Alberta Advanced Education.


12 of 15 AAE. (1992). High-school graduates and enrollment demand. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alberta, Alberta Advanced Education. AAS:UA. (1995). "Faculty renewal and early retirem ent." Association of academic staff: University of Alberta newsletter. Issue 4. pp. 8-9. AAS:UA. (1996). "Operation renewal: The salary cha llenge." Association of academic staff: University of Alberta newsletter. December. Issue 9. pp. 1-6. ACTISEC. (1997). Zero hour: Assessing the post-sec ondary system in Alberta. Calgary, AB: Alberta College and Technical Institutes Studen ts' Executive Council. AECD. (1993). Overview of department services. pro grams and challenges, 1992-93. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alberta, Ministry of Ad vanced Education and Career Development. AECD. (1994). New directions for adult learning in Alberta. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alberta, Advanced Education and Career Developme nt. AECD. (1995). Institutional accountability in Albe rta's post-secondary system: A progress report. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alberta, Advanc ed Education and Career Development. AECD. (1996). Encouraging excellence and rewarding success in Alberta's public adult learning system: A proposal for implementing a perf ormance funding envelope. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alberta, Advanced Education and C areer Development. AECD. (1997a). "$105 million for infrastructure re newal, Alberta universities, public colleges and technical institutes." News release. A ugust 14. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alberta, Advanced Education and Career Development. AECD. (1997b). "New performance funding rewards pr ogress towards goals in postsecondary education." News release. July 31. Edmont on, AB: Government of Alberta, Advanced Education and Career Development. AECD. (1997c). Rewarding progress towards goals: H ighlights of Alberta's performance envelope funding. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alber ta, Advanced Education and Career Development. AECD. (1997d). Performance envelope press conferen ce speaking points. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alberta, Advanced Education and Caree r Development. AECD. (1997e). "Debt among Alberta students." Sept ember 2. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alberta, Advanced Education and Caree r Development. Avery, B. (1997). "At NAIT, learning a trade means finding work." Edmonton Journal. September 25. p. A1, A20. Barnetson, R.J. (1997). Marketing the University o f Calgary to Frosh: A motivational typology of student-college choice. Master's Thesis ERIC Document Reproduction Service. ED 404 930.


13 of 15 Bailey, A. (1991). "Library bloodletting." The Uni versity of Calgary Gauntlet. December 10. p. B5. Calgary Herald. (1994). "Students default on $15 m illion." Calgary Herald. November 4. p. A1. Cooper, D. & Neu, D. (1995). "The politics of debt and deficit in Alberta." in T. Harrison and G. Laxter. The Trojan horse: Alberta and the fu ture of Canada. Montreal, PQ: Institute of Policy Alternatives of Montreal. CAUT. (1996). "Average salaries for assistant prof essors." CAUT bulletin. March. Drugge, S. (1995). The Alberta tax advantage: Myth and reality." in T. Harrison and G. Laxter. The Trojan horse: Alberta and the future of Canada. Montreal, PQ: Institute of Policy Alternatives of Montreal. Emberley, P. (1996). Zero tolerance: Hot-button po litics in Canada's universities. Toronto, ON: Penguin. Gibbins, R. & Youngman, L. (1996). Mindscapes: Pol itical ideologies towards the 21st century. Toronto, ON: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Company. Gilbert, S. (1995). "Quality education: Does class -size matter?" Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada research brief. http://www.a Government of Alberta. (1997). People and prosperi ty: A human resource strategy for Alberta. Edmonton, AB: Author. Harvey, L. & Green, D. (1993). "Defining quality." Assessment and evaluation in higher education. 18. pp. 9-34. Krahn, H. & Lowe, G.S. (1997). 1996 Alberta high-s chool graduate survey report. Edmonton, AB: Government of Alberta, Alberta Educat ion. Klein, R. (1996). An address at the Bomex '96 Nati onal Conference, September 5, 1996. Kohn, A. (1992). No contest: The case against comp etition. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company. Little, D. (1997). "Financing universities: Why ar e students paying more?" Education quarterly review. Statistics Canada. pp. 10-26. March, J.G. (1976). "The technology of foolishness ." in J.G. March and J.P. Olsen (Eds). Ambiguity and choice is organization. Oslo, Norway: Universiteforlaget. pp. 1023. March, J.G. & Olsen, J.P. (1976). "Organizational choice under ambiguity." in J.G. March and J.P. Olsen (Eds). Ambiguity and choice is organ ization. Oslo, Norway: Universiteforlaget. pp. 54-68. McMillian, M.L. & Warrack, A.A. (1995). "One-track (thinking) towards deficit reduction." in T. Harrison and G. Laxter. The Troja n horse: Alberta and the future of


14 of 15 Canada. Montreal, PQ: Institute of Policy Alternati ves of Montreal. McQuaig, L. (1996). Shooting the hippo: Death by d eficit and other Canadian myths. Toronto, ON: Penguin. Robb, M. (1997). "U of A loses competitive salary edge: From second to sixteenth in a decade: Board chair suggests MLAs see data." Univer sity of Alberta folio. May 16. 34 (18). p. 1. SAIT. (1996). Annual report. Calgary, AB: Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Stone, D. (1988). Policy paradox and political rea son. Boston, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company. Taft, K. (1997). Shredding the public interest: Ra lph Klein and 25 years of one-party government. Edmonton, AB: The University of Alberta Press and the Parkland Institute. Treasury. (1997). Budget update. Edmonton, AB: Gov ernment of Alberta, Treasury. UCSU. (1996). Tuition, student aid and student deb t: A comparison of Canadian and US universities. Calgary, AB: The University of Calgar y Students' Union. About the Author Robert J. Barnetson PhD candidate, Faculty of Education The University of Calgary Bob Barnetson is a doctoral student in adult educat ion at The University of Calgary and Professional Affairs Officer at the Alberta Col lege-Institutes Faculties Association. Barnetson's most recent publication is "The Alberta Experience: A return to popular education?" in the Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education Mailing Address: Alberta College-Institutes Faculties Association #412 10357 109th St. Edmonton, AB T5J 1N3 voice (403) 423-4440 fax (403) 423-4515 email: Copyright 1997 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesThe World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is


15 of 15 General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, or reach him at College of Education, Arizona Stat e University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2411. (602-965-2692). T he Book Review Editor is Walter E. Shepherd: The Commentary Editor is Casey D. Cobb: .EPAA Editorial Board Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin Greg Camilli Rutgers University John Covaleskie Northern Michigan University Andrew Coulson Alan Davis University of Colorado, Denver Sherman Dorn University of South Florida Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Richard Garlikov Thomas F. Green Syracuse University Alison I. Griffith York University Arlen Gullickson Western Michigan University Ernest R. House University of Colorado Aimee Howley Marshall University Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory William Hunter University of Calgary Richard M. Jaeger University of North Carolina--Greensboro Daniel Kalls Ume University Benjamin Levin University of Manitoba Thomas Mauhs-Pugh Rocky Mountain College Dewayne Matthews Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education William McInerney Purdue University Mary P. McKeown Arizona Board of Regents Les McLean University of Toronto Susan Bobbitt Nolen University of Washington Anne L. Pemberton Hugh G. Petrie SUNY Buffalo Richard C. Richardson Arizona State University Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Dennis Sayers University of California at Davis Jay D. Scribner University of Texas at Austin Michael Scriven Robert E. Stake University of Illinois--UC Robert Stonehill U.S. Department of Education Robert T. Stout Arizona State University


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