OTTAWA--Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), while promoted as an innovative approach to the provision of public goods and services, are playing a damaging role in Ontario's universities, according to a new study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. For Cash and Future Considerations: Ontario Universities and Public-Private Partnerships examines the growing influence of PPPs in Ontario's public universities, particularly in infrastructure and research.
The study demonstrates that this method of "funding" Ontario higher education, embraced by the Ontario government and facilitated by a number of initiatives such as SuperBuild, the Ontario Challenge Research and Development Fund (ORDCF) and the Ontario Innovation Trust (OIT), entrenches inequality between and within institutions. It privileges technology and science disciplines over the liberal arts programs in which the vast majority of Ontario students are enrolled, and disproportionately financially benefits the larger research universities over smaller institutions.
According to Heather-jane Robertson, one of the study's authors, "these vehicles of PPPs have begun to transform public-serving universities into contracted-out centres for private-sector R & D initiatives, particularly as the public funding for research is often tied to securing private funding."
PPPs pose a potential threat to institutional integrity, academic freedom, and the breadth of topics considered "appropriate" for sponsored research, particularly when the immediate commercial application of the research is central to its qualifying for funding.
"This decade marks the equivalent of 'the perfect storm' within Ontario's higher education system. The convergence of increased student demand due to the double cohort, a rapidly decaying infrastructure, an accumulated debt, underfunding, an aging professoriate, and many other factors have created and reinforced vulnerability in the university sector," the study explains.
The authors conclude: "the proposed 'solution' of PPPs is anything but. Whether viewed through the lens of financial cost, accountability, quality of service, community engagement or private influence over public policy, the intensification of the interdependence of corporate and political interests that result from PPPs fundamentally undermines the role of public universities in Ontario."