Corporate Universities In Canada
For the past 30 years Canada has adhered to the neoliberal model of capitalism which has entailed a drastic cutback in public spending. Along with health care and many other social programs, spending on post-secondary education has been significantly curtailed. Between 1986 and 2006, government grants as a share of university operating revenue plummeted from 80% to less than 57%.
Despite this criticism, the corporate university is the dominant institution in Canada. Of course, one hears Margaret Thatcher's often repeated phrase, "there is no alternative”, used as justification for this ideological hegemony; however, this is unsettling. The university's transformation from “public institution” to “corporate-state joint economic institution”
Why Changes Occurred
The transformation of Canadian universities was primarily driven by economic imperatives. As neoliberalism began to take hold in the early 80’s, Canada was in the midst of the worst recession in half a century, with unemployment reaching almost 13% in December 1982
Three main goals coalesced out of this document. Firstly, corporations must have greater access to graduate students in engineering and the sciences in order to facilitate recruitment of the brightest talent. Secondly, research must be prioritized towards generating new technology for use in Canadian industry, allowing Canada to remain competitive worldwide. Thirdly, corporate professionals must have access to universities for professional training in order for them to keep in tune with changing times.
In hindsight, Partnership for Growth was a prescient vision of what would actually occur over the next 30 years. In 1980, there were four university research parks in Canada. As of 2010, there are now 26. According to the Association of University Research Parks Canada, the goal of these parks is to “foster innovation, commercialization and economic competitiveness in a global economy through collaboration among universities, industry and government”
Characteristics of Corporate Universities
Maxwell’s vision has been so hegemonic, that virtually all Canadian universities have been transformed in some way. Three institutions exemplify the values outlined above: the University of Alberta (U of A), the University of Toronto (U of T), and the University of Waterloo (UW). The U of A and the U of T both participate in numerous NCEs (18 and 17 respectively) with only the UBC participating in more
Given that a high priority is placed on technological development, one can expect that funding priorities will reflect these values. Examining the operating expenditures within various faculties at the U of A reveals that funding priorities do indeed surface. In 2007-08, the total operating budget for the Faculty of Engineering was over $35 million, more than seven times the Faculty of Law’s budget of $4.7 million
Although UW trails behind U of T in endowments, it has made arrangements that “blur the distinction between university and business”
Whether or not corporate/university integration has benefited the economy as a whole is an ongoing debate. What is clear, however, is that these institutions are pumping out graduates at ever increasing rates. In 1980, approximately 114,000 students received degrees, diplomas, or certificates from a post-secondary institution
There has been a serious backlash against the neoliberal agenda outlined by C.H.E.F. by both students and teaching staff. Much of the criticism of these policies has been directed at the fact that important political questions are being masked as bureaucratic decisions and the harsh fiscal environment presented as an inescapable reality
Faced with government funding cutbacks, Canadian universities attempted to become more “efficient”. Critics point out that while “efficiency” looks fine on paper, the human consequences can be disastrous. In order to expedite difficult decisions, universities heeded Maxwell’s call to “centralize control over expenditures”. This resulted in the increased power and size of administrations
As administrations took on the role of upper-level management, they increasingly took their cues from corporate practices. One common cost-cutting method was to divide complex jobs into simple tasks that could be done by low-level employees who garner low wages. Thus, it should come as no surprise that universities began to "decrease permanent hiring in favor of reliance on pools of teaching assistants, sessional instructors, and junior faculty"
Performance Indicators: Thousands of Tiny Ropes
In order to monitor “efficiency” and to make sure that Canadian universities were responsive to industry, the Canadian government created metrics known as performance indicators (PIs) that would measure the “success” of universities in various categories. For instance, PI’s now measure "how many patents a department has registered, how many matching grants it has found, how many employable students it has graduated, whether these students are working in the exact fields for which they were trained, and... how many dollars per student were expended to produce all those results”
Academic Freedom in Jeopardy
Critics fear that corporate donations to universities place limits on academic freedom. Neil Tudiver, author of Universities for Sale, contrasts two similar offers of corporate donations and two distinct results:
Not long after I joined the University of Manitoba's School of Social Work in 1977, Seagrams Corporation offered to support research on employee assistance programs. Such research was not only consistent with the school's mandate, it also fit nicely with the company's desire to be seen as doing something about the adverse effects of excess drinking. But the school turned down the offer, arguing that taking research money from a sponsor with an interest in the subject matter might appear to compromise its programs. Two decades later, by contrast, the University of Toronto's Faculty of Social Work came under fire for actively pursuing corporate contributions. Alan Irving, Associate Professor of Social Work, documented some $6 million obtained from four corporations...[who] were well known supporters of neoconservative agendas aimed at destroying social programs and privatizing higher education.
As noted previously, the University of Toronto also accepted $15 million from the Rotman Foundation. What critics found disturbing, however, was that the agreement called for the "unqualified support for and commitment to the principles and values underlying the [donors’] vision by members of the faculty of management"
Profits over People
Perhaps the most persuasive argument against corporatization of Canadian universities has to do with negative societal implications that have arisen. As noted by Maxwell, corporate investment in universities is motivated by “self-interest”. Since corporations are legally obligated to pursue a profit, Tudiver concludes that Canadian universities must be a profitable investment. For example, a newsletter for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council advertised how, for a $15,000 before tax donation, a corporate donor could gain access to $225,000 worth of research
Who Benefitted and Who Did Not
Critics argue that the only winner in this situation has been industry. The university system has become geared to serving the special interests of business. The clear losers have been students. Although corporate investment in universities has steadily increased since the early 80’s, it has not kept up with the steady decline in government funding. Instead, the deficit has been met by increasing the tuition burden paid by students. In 1979-80, student fees represented 13% of the total operating funds for Canadian universities; by 1997-98, this figure had risen to 31%
What Are the Alternatives?
There are alternatives to “corporate-state joint economic institutions”, but one has to look far from the mainstream. Across Canada, activist groups have organized “alternative” universities that reject the principles of the modern neoliberal university. Three endeavors are worthy of note: Anarchist U in Toronto, Critical U in Vancouver, and the People's Free University of Saskatchewan (PFU). Unlike CHEF’s narrow vision of post-secondary education, these activist institutions insist on serving broader public interests, with the ultimate goal of educating towards positive social change.
Launched in 1998, Toronto based Anarchist U is a volunteer-run, autonomous collective offering free courses, workshops, and lectures that cover a wide range of topics
Vancouver based Critical U is similar to Anarchist U in stressing the cooperative nature of learning. Classes are free and no previous post-secondary education is required
Stressing inclusivity, the motto of the People’s Free University of Saskatchewan is “Everyone Can Learn - Everyone Can Teach”
[It] emerged from a series of "bag lunch" public meetings organized at the University of Saskatchewan within the Educational Foundations department. The main topic was how the wholesale adoption of the federal government's current innovation policy agenda for universities shapes priority setting and planning for the reallocation of resources on campus. This agenda is advanced by an ideological discourse on "research intensiveness", "integrated planning", and the necessity for a cumbersome, top-down "systematic program review". Marketplace criteria for assessing the value of publicly funded university education are invoked to justify substantial increases in student fees.
The PFU promotes community development and lifelong learning. Over 200 learners, ranging from age 12 to 82 enrolled in the first PFU class. Like the previous two examples, education at PFU is a political act, purposely contradicting the bureaucratic and technical vision promoted by Maxwell. The PFU criticizes commodification of learning as well as the recent emergence of “Coca-Cola pedagogy”
The corporatization of Canadian universities is best understood as part of the larger process of neoliberal globalization that has occurred over the past 30 years. Almost relentlessly, more and more spheres of human activity have been brought under market ethos; therefore, it is not surprising that a form of academic capitalism has emerged. Neoliberal ideology dictates that all institutions play a part in driving economic growth; the corporate university’s purpose is to become a knowledge factory, driving the “knowledge” economy. These corporate universities are defined by an emphasis on science and engineering with the ultimate goal of creating technology for use in industry. Critics have decried that Canadian universities have become mere pawns of industry. They argue that corporatization places limits on academic freedom, corrupts democratic decision making, and allows business to socialize the cost of expensive research. Alternatives have arisen in the form of “Free” universities, institutions that are grassroots and activist in nature. They focus on teaching values that are antithetical to the existing system. Whether these organizations will ever pose a serious challenge to the corporate university’s hegemony is a question for the future.
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