“Higher Education Principles” (from Association of American University Professors)

This came across the transom this morning from a member of our Faculty in the course of a longer email discussion of how we might make funding for post-secondary education in the current provincial election. As the statement notes, “higher education is not the automobile industry, in a declining position internationally and requiring protection or a bailout.  We have greater demand for college than ever, both domestically and internationally. Systems across the world are seeking to emulate our universities and community colleges. We are a vibrant sector in which in which student demand and scientific output are growing.” Why, then, is it so difficult to secure government investment in a growth sector of the economy, especially in a place such as Alberta, which desperately needs to diversify away from its dependence upon a resource that is (depending on your perspective) either at or approaching its “peak” or dying?

Principle #5 seems of pressing importance here and now. It reads:

5. Quality higher education in the twenty-first century will require the pursuit of real efficiencies and the avoidance of false economies.

Many of the cuts colleges and universities have made during the current economic crisis—cutting classes and departments, increasing class sizes, slashing curricula, and reducing support services for students—may have seemed to help campuses balance their budgets in the short term. But such measures are counterproductive in terms of educating and graduating students. And they bear long-term costs that have not been discussed. There are pitfalls to practice in such measures that cut what we know works in contributing to students’ success.

Unfortunately, the economic pressure to cut budgets and the political pressure to define all cuts as “efficiencies” currently makes it almost impossible to open a conversation about the hidden costs of various cuts. Moreover, the overriding focus on academic program cuts and on realizing efficiencies in academic labor costs divert attention from a principal driver of increased costs in higher education—non-educational personnel and programs. Not every cut in academic costs is a real efficiency. Sometimes, the best way to increase productivity is to strategically invest in, not to substantially cut from, programs, personnel, and costs.

We propose that the public discussion of increasing efficiency and productivity in higher education starts here: a real efficiency should be pursued that will increase long term educational productivity and either enhance or not compromise the principles of a quality higher education for the 21st century outlined in this document.

The full document is available here:

http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/GR/Public/principles.htm.

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