Hello from the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA). I’ve been invited to mix things up a bit with a guest blog from the student perspective.
Since the government has announced that new Multi-Year Accountability Agreements (MYAAs) are in the works, I’d like to dip a toe into the discussion around how best to ensure our institutions and our government are accountable to students and to the public. Of course, accountability has many facets and means different things to different people. To break off manageable pieces, I will deal with it in three parts: information, objectives, and governance.
At a basic level, accountability can’t be achieved without transparency and open access to information. Currently, our institutions and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities collect vast amounts of institution-specific and sector-wide data, only a fraction of which is made public. Students believe strongly that the onus should be on those collecting data to proactively make it available. A fully accountable system would separate data reporting from other pieces of the accountability framework, bring together in one place all the data obtained through various reporting mechanisms, and make it publicly available. Only this will ensure that stakeholders can keep our institutions accountable.
In addition to transparency in data and information, institutions must also be accountable for fulfilling objectives. This accountability is precisely what the MYAAs were originally developed to ensure. But students continue to question why the five years of the Reaching Higher Plan – when the MYAAs were in place and institutions saw substantial real annual growth in per-student revenue – did not result in any significant quality improvements. Clearly, returning the MYAAs to their original purpose as strategic documents is necessary.
When we say that MYAAs should be strategic documents, we are suggesting that they should be used to plan for future enrolment growth and to facilitate constructive dialogue on what each institution believes its plans and priorities should be and how that fits into the Province’s overall goals for the sector. This will undoubtedly require significant creativity and effort, but there are few more important goals than ensuring our publicly-funded institutions are held accountable.
The final piece of the accountability puzzle is governance, or who gets input into forming institutional and governmental objectives in the first place. At the campus level, students have representation on governing bodies such as the Senate and Board of Governors, but the level of representation is unreasonably low. According to a province-wide review conducted this year by OUSA, only an average of 8.4 per cent of the voting positions on boards are reserved for students, and it goes as low as 2.8 per cent. With students contributing a majority of operating costs through tuition and fees at their institutions, should there not be a parallel shift toward greater student representation throughout the governing process?
If students are now contributing as much as government, shouldn’t a second MYAA process be established between student associations and administrations? Right now students largely rely on the government’s accountability framework to ensure that institutions are meeting their needs, yet student leaders were, for the most part, excluded from the last round of MYAA negotiations. In a system where we too often conflate accountability to government and accountability to students as one and the same, an open discussion on the changing nature of student participation in institutional governance and system-wide accountability is overdue.