Engaging the Future
Draft Report of the Task Force on Strategic Planning
June 22, 2006
12. Public Investment and Accountability
Western receives its operating funds primarily from Provincial government grants and tuition. The Provincial government, in its May 2005 budget, unveiled its Reaching Higher plan for postsecondary education following the review and recommendations of the Hon. Bob Rae. Universities and colleges were established as a very high priority for government spending.
Mr. Rae recognized the need for public accountability for the use of increased public funding but, in doing so, he also recognized the fundamental importance of institutional autonomy and diversity. The challenge for Ontario's universities is therefore to respond to the call for accountability in a way that respects our local culture, mission, values, priorities, and governance. The terms of this "contract" are set out in the Rae Report:
With respect to the design of the system, my recommendations reflect the need to reconcile three objectives: institutional independence and diversity, the need for co-ordination and clearer pathways for student, and accountability to the public to ensure that money is being spent wisely. All three principles are important. A strongly centralized approach, such as we have seen in the past, will not work well in the years ahead. Autonomous, flexible institutions working within a framework of public accountability is a better direction.
The challenge for Ontario's universities is therefore to respond to the call for accountability in a way that respects our local culture, mission, values, priorities, and governance.
The first building blocks in Western's public accountability are this Strategic Plan and its predecessors in 1995 and 2001, developed with representation by all the University's major constituencies, approved by our Senate and Board, and made readily available to the public.
The second element of our accountability is the annual publication of a Performance and Activity Indicators report, as we first did in April 2005, presenting a series of comparative analyses that measured our success in attaining University priorities. In demonstrating to the public and to government that we have set measurable objectives and consistently assess our progress in a reliable manner, we are answering directly our own needs for appropriate institutional measurement and the public need for transparency in the investment of resources. Our Indicators include results from three well-accepted surveys based in the US: the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE); the Graduate and Professional Student Survey (GPSS); and the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange (CSRDE).
The third element is the public availability of our annual Operating and Capital Budget, debated by Senate and approved by the Board of Governors, and of our audited financial statements. We seek in our Budget to give a clear account our current spending and future plans with considerable detail for the interested reader.
Western is already actively engaged in public accountability and indeed is a leader in this respect. We believe accountability is a direct correlative of our prized institutional autonomy and transparency of decision-making processes.
In the March 2006 Ontario Budget, the province announced the impending appointment of a Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), to monitor quality in postsecondary education This fourth accountability mechanism offers the potential for appropriate, standardized, and reliable measurement of significant areas of institutional performance. The measures should be used by individual institutions to improve performance within the context of their own distinct institutional missions. HEQCO should not use the measures to create institutional rankings or league tables, which so often compare apples and oranges and do not lead to improved performance. Each university should be seeking to demonstrate progress against its own priorities.
The collective ability of Ontario's universities to secure greater public support in the future will depend upon our willingness to measure our local progress in quality improvement. The additional public investments in the government's Reaching Higher plan, coupled with recently-announced tuition regulations, will bring Ontario's universities closer to the national per-student funding level, but will still fall considerably short of Mr Rae's 'stretch target' of bringing Ontario's universities closer to our counterparts in the United States. Our success in reaching this target will be in large measure determined by our ability to demonstrate accountability and quality improvement.
- Western strongly supports effective accountability in the context of institutional autonomy and transparency of decision-making processes; all three elements are essential for excellence in a publicly funded academic institution. We will:
12.1 - Make broadly known the accountability measures already part of our University culture: the community involvement in strategic planning, and the publication of accountability indicators, institutional budget information, student course and instructor evaluations, and surveys of students, faculty, staff, and the London community.
12.2 - Promote broad awareness of acknowledged measures of academic quality: undergraduate and Ontario Council on Graduate Studies program reviews; cyclical external peer reviews of Departments, Schools, and Faculties; accreditation of professional programs; Ontario Council of Academic Vice-Presidents undergraduate and graduate degree expectations.
12.3 - Urge the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario to approach university accountability in a manner that supports institutional diversity and autonomy, and to use the best of existing measures of university quality and performance, including the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE); the Graduate and Professional Student Survey (GPSS); and the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange (CSRDE).
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