Ontario's university watchdog
By Sara Marett
Ontario's elementary and secondary school systems may not be the only levels of education the provincial government wants to change as they prepare to introduce a "Public Sector Accountability Act."
The bill, expected to be introduced to the legislature by the end of the year, is aimed at improving accountability in public institutions any organization which receives funding from the provincial government, said Ministry of Education spokesperson Daniele Gauvin.
Under the act, public institutions are instructed to follow the "Best Practices" recommendations for improved management of their operation to ensure better accountability to the public. The aim is for institutions, including colleges and universities, to provide performance- based indicators when determining funding needed from the government.
What is involved in "Best Practices" is a disclosure from all institutions of an annual report including objectives, resources and a review of performance, Gauvin explained. She added last year's auditor's report called for increased accountability within Ontario's colleges and universities so the public would know they are receiving the most value for their money.
"Clearly the government believes it should play a role in the accountability of public institutions," said Peter Mercer, Western's VP-administration. He added the government has told universities they will have major input regarding the kinds of performance indicators used to ensure quality education.
Mercer said this act is not unwelcome at Western as long as there are specific indicators in place for universities and they would not be subject to those used for hospitals, for example. He felt this initiative would not threaten the autonomy of universities as long as they were involved in the process.
The Council of Ontario Universities, however, disagreed and is concerned the government may choose to impose across the board performance indicators for all universities. "Rather than fitting everyone into the same square peg, [the government] must recognize their differences," said COU spokesperson David Scott.
He added if this act becomes law, universities must have the ability to set their own performance indicators for improved accountability. "The real danger in this act is the possibility of a centralized army of governmental power in education."