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Federation of N.B. Faculty Associations rejects performance-based university funding

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The Federation of New Brunswick Faculty Associations (FNBA) released a position paper Wednesday against the funding of public universities on the basis of performance measurement.

The paper explains that performance-based funding is a system whereby a portion of a government’s higher education budget is given according to specific performance measures, such as course completion, retention and degree completion.

This type of funding is being considered for New Brunswick because the government “is genuinely concerned, among other things, with the forecast of 120,000 jobs becoming vacant within the next ten years,” the report states.

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According to the ‘New Brunswick Labour Market Outlook 2018-2027’ report, 27.3 per cent of those jobs (approx. 33,000) are estimated to require a combination of university education and work experience.

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Occupations in health, management and business, finance and administration are expected to see the most job openings, according to the market report.

“We hear more wishes in terms of having people graduate from specific programs so that they will move on to the next step, which is get a job in the employment sector, which we see employers having a hard time finding people and keeping people in those jobs,” said Jean Sauvageau, a university professor and interim president of the FNBA.

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Performance-based funding came up in the auditor general report released in December 2019, in which Kim MacPherson suggested that the government use key performance indicators in implementing accountability mechanisms for university funding.

Labour and post-secondary education minister Trevor Holder did not say whether he’s supportive of performance-based funding or not. He stated in an e-mail that “as a province, we need to have a larger conversation around post-secondary education.”

“Our universities need to play a role in aligning with the province’s labour market needs, as well as attracting students, both domestic and international, to our institutions and making them want to stay and contribute to our province’s economy after graduation,” Holder said.

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“Employers are having a hard time. We do not deny that … but the way they go about finding people to occupy those jobs, it cannot be put on the university,” said Sauvageau.

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He also said that universities educate and train people to a certain extent and that whenever they get hired, employers must then pick up the next part of the equation and train people for the specific job they wish them to hold.

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“Over years, and especially since the last recession, the 2008-2009 recession, there has been a major reluctance by employers to invest and do those kinds of endeavors to train their employees, [instead] divesting it to universities,” Sauvageau said.
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Sauvageau said the FNBA position paper also seeks to dispel misconceptions the government or employers have against universities.

“Universities seem to be cast adrift in the great big sea of [perceived] unaccountability. Universities get a lot of money, but they don’t answer to anyone as to what to do with it and what programs they put on to teach students … and who they end up graduating toward what jobs. And the [idea that] universities are not exactly accountable is not true.”

Sauvageau goes on to say that universities are somewhat blamed or doubted because they seem to be holding onto some “capricious concept of the university- the ivory tower- completely aloof from what’s going on in the world.”

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“We are quite aware of our environment. We are very much aware of what’s going on and how things change,” he said.

For that reason, Sauvageau believes that performance-based funding is not effective because students who end up graduating from so-called specific funded programs don’t even go into jobs of that market, and that essentially it does not invest in the higher education of all students.

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The position paper shows that since 2009, New Brunswick’s average number of people with bachelor degrees is below the national average by 27 per cent, and the gap has been growing.

“To be so far behind the national average and the fact that is getting worse certainly is a major issue that we all need to be concerned with,” said Sauvageau.

“So instead of thinking in terms of graduating people to go hopefully into specific sectors of employment, which has been demonstrated does not work either, we should at least think in terms of getting more people to attend university and succeed,” he added.

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