New Government Budget Model
As many of you know, the Government of Alberta is imposing a new budget model effective April 1, 2020. The Government will negotiate with each post-secondary institution an investment management agreement (IMA) of 3 years duration. There will be an “at risk” component to our institutions’ Campus Alberta Grant funding of 15% for 2020 – 2021, 25% for 2021 – 2022, and 40% for 2022 – 2023. We have been informed, that institutions will have the opportunity to earn back some portion or all of these percent reductions in annual budgets, through meeting performance indicators (see and
Among the performance indicators by which our institutions will be measured are the following:
Graduate employment rate
Graduate employment in a related job to their training
Experiential learning (work integrated learning)
Enrollments – domestic and international
Sponsored Research revenue
Student experience and satisfaction
Plus institutions will be allowed to identify a performance indicator
The universities have no control over outcomes related to a substantial portion of the Government’s performance indicators. Take, for example, Graduate employment rates, Graduate income, and Graduate income. Such factors are based on the state of the economy, and Government expenditures in health care, infrastructure, and other activities. It is inappropriate that contributions by universities are judged by outcomes they cannot control.
The Government has stated that the performance indicators will be weighted differently for each institution. They have also indicated that this is not a competitive exercise with other institutions, but that we are competing with our prior performance.
The Government argues that the three-year IMA will provide greater stability to institutions. In theory, a longer-term funding agreement could contribute to stability. However, the 15% to 40% “at risk” aspect of the Campus Alberta Grant, could create substantial funding instability. At the same time, the University of Alberta is implementing a new budget model that will be phased in over the next 5 years, which will contain performance metrics.
Superimposed upon these two new budget models, the Government is reducing the Campus Alberta Grant to institutions by on average 5% annually, over the next three years. The nexus of annual 5% cuts in provincial funding, and annual increases in the percentage of “at risk” funding, plus the onus of meeting two layers of performance indicators/metrics, will put unprecedented strain on our members’ ability to deliver quality research and education.
Government Performance Indicators
Any attempt to create a list of performance criteria is a futile exercise. Performance indicators can never capture all the important aspects within the broad spectrum of contributions made by universities through their academic members’ activities. In addition, there is substantial risk in prescribed performance indicators, in that they can incentivize activities that actually undermine intended goals established within and outside the university (see CAUT Letter to Premier Jason Kenney January 23, 2020).
The Minister of Advanced Education has defended the use of performance indicators in Alberta, by pointing out that there are a number of other jurisdictions that use them. The use of performance indicators in other jurisdictions, does not convert a bad idea into a good one.
It is inevitable that the Government’s proposed performance indicators will, in various ways, influence evaluation of individual AASUA members. It is unclear if the Government has this intention, but the consequence can be to decouple our academics from their fundamental academic mission. This draws into question, the potential for infringement on our academics’ academic freedom. Academic Freedom is protected within the Collective Agreement. If the Government’s performance indicators are implemented, the Association will scrutinize this issue and act in response if academic freedom is violated.
The Government must respect the fact that our academics are highly accountable. All our academic staff are evaluated by processes laid out in the Collective Agreement, for example, faculty are constantly evaluated for performance in teaching, research and service. This is indicated in national and international peer review processes associated with publication and research grant funding. Furthermore, our faculty members are evaluated within their respective Faculties on an annual basis by experts in their disciplines. Excellence by our academics, as determined by established evaluation processes, optimally serves Albertans.
Government Performance Indicators in Practice
A question was raised in General Faculties Council (GFC) on January 27, 2020, as to how the Government will set the “bar” for each of the performance indicators for the first year. The response from the University of Alberta’s leadership was that Government will use existing performance data from each institution to set that institution’s performance “bars”.
A separate question was raised at GFC as to what happens when institutions substantially exceed some Government performance indicators, but not fully meet others. The answer is, that exceeding any Government performance indicators, no matter to what extent, does not counterbalance perceived deficiencies in other performance indicators. With so many prescriptive performance indicators, we are at risk of spreading our efforts in a way that we may not be outstanding at anything.
At a press conference, the Minister of Advanced Education was asked if an institution doesn’t meet one or more indicators, where does the withheld money go? The Minister’s response appeared to be that the money would stay in Treasury. If the intention is for the withheld money to be held by Treasury or balance the provincial debt, then performance indicators might be perceived as a method to set the institutions up to fail, and redirect the money away from the post-secondary sector.
It is our understanding, from the Minister of Advanced Education, that the Government will require annual reporting related to the required performance indicators, and on additional activities. The Government promised that they would make every effort to eliminate or reduce red tape when they came into office. The additional reporting obligations of universities will have the opposite effect. It will create unnecessary demands on every aspect of the university, including on our academic staff, drawing them away from their important primary activities of teaching and research.
Government Infringement of University Autonomy
Academic priorities are established at the University of Alberta through collegial governance. The performance indicators to be imposed by the Government are an infringement of university autonomy. The pursuit of knowledge by the University of Alberta should not be negatively impacted by the Government or the private sector. Universities are places intended to be free from undue influence and whims of governments of the day. Societies have established and endorsed the autonomy of universities for that purpose. This is for the public good, and should not be violated.
University specific contributions and activities fall into realms that apparently receive little understanding or recognition by the current Government. For example, we see that when the Government attempts to approach the research contributions of universities, a major focus is on the number of research dollars that we attract, reflected in their performance indicators. Surely, they and we, must instead focus on discoveries, innovation, and creative works, as well as generation of intellectual property, and translation of new knowledge, that enrich our province and beyond, socially and financially. Universities are creators of new economies and are engines of economic diversification. It is important for the Government to understand these and many additional important roles that our Alberta universities play.