UWOFA's Position on the Strategic Mandate Agreement 3

John Ciriello, President


With the new year, Ontario universities begin the final year of the second phase of the province’s strategic mandate agreement. This second phase, or SMA2, runs from 2017 to 2020 and is part of a three-phased process which began with the implementation of phase 1 (2014 to 2017). The initiative is championed by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development and has been agreed to by 21 Ontario universities with the stated aim of “promoting student success and institutional excellence.” The agreements are aimed at encouraging “institutions to work with the government to help build a highly skilled workforce and also put an emphasis on collaboration and openness. They focus on each institution’s strengths to enhance quality and outcomes, as well as planned enrolment growth and financial sustainability.”

The agreement is designed to collect quantitative information grouped under several broad themes including: a) student experience; b) innovation in teaching and learning excellence; c) access and equity; d) research excellence and impact; and e) innovation, economic development and community engagement. Some examples could be looking at student retention levels, graduation rates, proportion of expenditures for student services, as well as graduate employment rates.

Funding Risks

In the third phase of this agreement, SMA3 which runs from 2020 to 2025 the actual funding allotments to universities will be tied to their performance on the agreement’s extremely deficient metrics.

On April 11, 2019 the Ontario government announced that the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities will be implementing the Strategic Mandate Agreements 2020-2025 (SMA3) and performance/outcomes-based funding. The SMA sets out;

  1. The enrolment corridor over the next five years of the agreement;
  2. Program areas where there is anticipated growth; and
  3. Performance indicators that will inform government funding for the period.

In this next round of SMAs there is much more focus on performance metrics, which will concentrate on two key areas:

  • Skills and Job Outcomes (including graduation rates, experiential learning opportunities, skills and competencies, and graduate employment and earnings); and
  • Community and Economic Impact (including local community impact, economic impact, federal tri-council research funding and research revenue from private sources).

Almost all of these are required metrics that are provided by the government. The only metric where institutions have any flexibility is with regard to economic impact, where universities can suggest a measure that best reflects their economic impact. Unlike previous SMAs, there will now be funding consequences for not meeting the established performance metrics for each institution.

The SMA also covers each institution’s enrolment profile and planning, and metrics related to faculty workload and compensation, although these metrics are not tied to funding.

UWOFA has concerns about how the pursuit of an academic degree and the nuances of the university learning experience can be pigeon-holed into an algorithm that is open to interpretation. When working with such defined and immutable parameters, this data driven research creates a dangerous precedent where a simple speadsheet error could reshape government policy and funding. To quote Kalev Leetaru in a recent Forbes article, when he stated that “data is conflated with truth and …dubious results are accepted as fact through the gilded veneer of data.”

These types of “big data” approaches being applied to non-traditional disciplines has lead to a growing trend of data driven research that is simply not possible in nonSTEM disciplines.

Mark Spooner, a professor at the University of Regina notes that, “The one-size-fits-all ‘factory model’ of knowledge creation, dissemination and measurement does a disservice to us all... to meet the demands of an audit culture set on counting quantity over quality, researchers will almost certainly experience greater pressure to “game” results …”.

UWOFA President, John Ciriello commented that, “As this process unfolds we will continue to work closely with the Deans and other members of our academic and local community to ensure that we can develop an SMA that best showcases and supports our members. However, we intend to continue to monitor how the funding model will change in many departments and the long term effects of this misguided policy. The current government of Ontario has shown their contempt for the rights of workers by circumventing the Collective Bargaining process through Bill 124 and going forward, by tying university funding to a set of performance indicators that will compromise the quality and integrity of our institution.”

Town Hall Meetings

All members of Western’s campus community are invited to attend one of two town hall meetings for a high-level update on the renewal of the University’s Strategic Mandate Agreement with the Ontario government (aka, SMA3). Ruban Chelladurai and Andrew Hrymak will be hosting these information sessions. A formal presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer period. Please see below for date, time and venue details.

Meeting #1

Wednesday, January 22, 2020
3:30 pm to 4:30 pm
McKellar Room
Room 290, University Community Centre

Meeting #2

Thursday, January 23, 2020
10:30 am to 11:30 am
McKellar Room
Room 290, University Community Centre