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Review Views: Reactions to the Rae Review Discussion Paper

Monday, October 25, 2004

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Written by JENN WATT

On October 1st, the Ontario Postsecondary Review – coined the “Rae Review” after its advisor Bob Rae – released its discussion paper. Advertised as being a debate-inspiring smorgasbord of education/funding schemes, the Central Student Association was keen to read it the day it was posted online. [http://www.raereview.on.ca]

In the opening message from Bob Rae, it states “Let me admit my bias: I think education is the bedrock of modern society.” While not much of a radical stance, he opens the floor for me to state my bias: the Rae Review isn’t listening to stakeholders like students, faculty and workers. This is exemplified in what the review leaves out – like a deferred maintenance analysis; what the review skirts over – like the problems of accountability within the institution; and what it suggests – like the quiet references to defunding operating budgets. Below I outline three of my concerns with the review in greater detail.

1. First, the most blaring problem with the Review is that the workers on campus – physical resources – aren’t mentioned AT ALL. Infrastructural problems are briefly referenced, but the labour that goes into making our campuses run does not even make the back pages. Along with the student to professor ratio should also be student to worker ratio. As we trek across campus, spilling garbage, wearing out carpets, muddying the hallways, workers have to follow after us and there needs to be adequate staffing to take care of the mess we make.

2. Second, there is a scary acceptance of current accountability mechanisms. Under the heading “Where are we now?” on page 27 of the paper, the Board of Governors is used as a seemingly uncomplicated accountability tool of the University. Unfortunately, there is nothing accountable or uncomplicated about the Board of Governors (BOG) at Guelph or anywhere else. At this point, it has become fairly well-known that many members of the BOG are tied to corporate interests and big banks (holding student debt). These interests can affect the research that takes place at a university and have the last say on whether tuition goes up or down. Yet this “accountability” mechanism was never called into question.

3. The final issue that the Central Student Association is focusing on is the funding scheme suggested. While the discussion paper clearly does not choose one particular method of funding for postsecondary education, the explorations and speculations laid out show a pointed interest in de-funding university operating budgets and moving to a student-grants based system.

After attending a meeting with some members of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, one sentence in the discussion paper stood out as being indicative of the leanings of the Review. Page 26: “Most provincial spending on higher education is in the form of operating grants to institutions that tend to benefit individuals from higher-income families the most, since they are more likely to attend.”

This is where things get difficult. While it is true that universities are places of privilege, mostly dominated by middle to upper class Canadians, the assertion that moving money away from operating grants will benefit lower class people is simply not accurate. Instead, the Review should look at WHY lower class people do not attend universities and colleges and also look at the taxation system that works against those people.

If higher education benefits higher-income people the most, perhaps the taxation system should gather the most money from them. Likewise, those of lower income families should be given grants, not loans to attend universities and colleges, thus making education more accessible. The way it is presented in the discussion paper, it appears that Rae has his sights set on reducing the amount of government assistance to institutions in favour of grants, which is misguided and will simply lead to impoverished universities, higher tuition rates and increased private sponsorship.

The Rae Review is incredibly angering not just for the reasons mentioned above, but also because it has fostered an image of open debate and discussion. Counter to this image, it has done very little to survey the range of approaches to education or to delve into the meaty problems of student poverty, international student fees and the elitism of Ontario’s postsecondary institutions. Grants for those in need is one good idea, but it can’t be the only one and it cannot happen at the expense of all else.

I encourage everyone to visit http://www.raereview.on.ca and read the discussion paper, fill out the online workbook and visit the Central Student Association with your views. We will be attending a roundtable discussion with Bob Rae later in the fall and would love to have every student’s input.

Jenn Watt, Academic Commissioner
Central Student Association

824 4120 ext. 56742

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