David Trick – A happy 50th birthday to Ontario’s MTCU

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Guest blogger: David Trick

Amid all the anniversary celebrations in higher education in recent years, one more deserves to be noted: May 8 is the 50th birthday of Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

Until 1964, the Premier was in effect the minister responsible for Ontario’s universities. Premier John Robarts had an Advisory Committee on University Affairs – an odd amalgam of senior officials, a minister, business leaders, a former premier, a senator, and a chief justice – to advise him on which spending proposals from universities, for new programs and buildings, should be approved for funding.

As the baby-boom expansion of the universities moved into high gear, Premier Robarts thought that the task of administering the government’s support for universities warranted a full department.  He introduced the Department of University Affairs Act, which came into force on May 8, 1964.

The Department of University Affairs was the last of the major players in Ontario university policy to be created.  Its enabling statute – only a page in length – gave it no powers over the universities.  This was a reflection of the new department’s challenging circumstances:

  • Each of the new universities of the 1950s and 1960s had already been created with a statute giving it the same autonomous self-governance that the older universities enjoyed.  The last of these – the University of Guelph Act – took effect the same day that the department was created.
  • The university presidents had formed their own association in 1962 to protect and advance their interests.  They initially opposed assigning the universities to a department on the grounds that the department would attempt to control the universities.  They nevertheless recognized that the government needed more capacity to do planning and analysis.
  • The Advisory Committee continued to operate alongside the new department.  To allay fears of government intrusion, Premier Robarts sometimes described the department as simply a research and administrative arm of the Advisory Committee.

The department’s first minister was William Davis, who was also the Minister of Education.  The first deputy minister was J.R. (Jack) McCarthy, a senior official from the Department of Education.

Mr. Davis’s belief in the value of education was unsurpassed, and he was soon speaking firmly about the need for universities to align their activities with the interests of society at large.  He drew a clear distinction between the universities’ autonomy to govern themselves and the government’s power to choose what it wished to pay for – beginning the department’s longstanding practice of using conditional funding to make up for its lack of other statutory authority.

The department initiated significant work in the areas of enrolment planning and financial administration.  It created an integrated federal-Ontario student assistance program (1966).  It worked with the universities and the Advisory Committee to create today’s university operating grants formula (1967).  About one-third of the space at Ontario’s universities today was built during the department’s first decade.

The Advisory Committee was expanded after 1964 to include university representatives, and it began reporting to Mr. Davis, with the deputy minister as the committee’s secretary.  The committee continued, in various incarnations, until 1996.

The first ADM of University Affairs was Edward E. Stewart, a former teacher and principal who made himself into a trusted policy advisor and respected scholar of the history of the Ontario government’s relationship with universities.  He and his minister were remarkably young – Mr. Davis was 34 when the department was created, and Ed Stewart a year younger – and they formed a lasting team.  Ed Stewart became the deputy minister in 1967 (and was Secretary of the Cabinet under Premier Davis from 1976 to 1985).

Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology were created starting in 1966 under the aegis of the Department of Education.  After the first 20 colleges were launched, they became the responsibility of an expanded Ministry of Colleges and Universities in 1971. (All government departments were renamed “ministries” that year.)  The ministry played a much larger role in managing the college system than the university system, and this role was significantly revised with the passage of the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act in 2002.

The ministry led the establishment of the French-language colleges beginning in the late 1980s, replacing the bilingual colleges and complementing the three bilingual universities.  An Aboriginal Education and Training Strategy was launched in 1991.

Training was added to the ministry in 1993 with the dissolution of the former Ministry of Skills Development.  This responsibility was greatly expanded under the Canada-Ontario Labour Market Agreement in 2007.

The ministry has had a complex relationship with the Ministry of Education.  The universities opposed the possibility of being assigned to the Department of Education in the 1960s, fearing its tradition of centralized control and its unfamiliarity with universities (most EDU professional staff were former teachers and school officials).  Mr. Davis was minister for both departments until 1971.  The two ministries shared a minister and deputy minister from 1978 to 1985, creating a single ministry in all but name.  From 1993 to 1999, education, colleges, universities and skills development were merged into a single Ministry of Education and Training.  It has been argued that the ministry’s interest in planning and coordinating the university system tended to peak in the years when postsecondary education and K-12 education were conjoined.

The current name – Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities – was adopted in 1999.  Some observers speculated that this name signalled the government’s order of priorities, but in fact the ordering was chosen to make the least objectionable acronym.

The Ministry’s history has coincided with the era of globalization.  Developing human capital has become central to the economic and social strategies of governments around the world.  With the rapid expansion of higher education and the addition of new training responsibilities, MTCU has become the government’s fourth largest ministry as measured by program expenditures.

Working with its university and college partners, MTCU has had many achievements.  The foremost is that, every year, hundreds of thousands of young people attend university or college who would not have had that chance in 1964.  The ministry has benefited – and continues to benefit – from the efforts of some extraordinarily talented public servants who are dedicated to serving the public interest.  This and much else should give cause for celebration.

-David Trick
David Trick, PhD, is president of David Trick and Associates Inc., consultants in higher education strategy and management.

Our opinion is that the opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are their opinion, and not necessarily those of HEQCO.

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