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Performance contracts raise worry at universities

Concern is mounting among university administrators about how the Quebec government's plans to integrate performance indicators into their new funding formula will affect their institutions.

Rector Frederick Lowy reminded University Senate last Friday that the Mike Harris government in Ontario has already brought in performance contracts that reward universities for an increase in their graduation rates and for the number of graduates who find work in their field after six months and two years. The Ontario government penalizes the institutions for poor performance in meeting these objectives.

In fact, Lowy said, the difference in ranking between the top third and bottom third of Ontario's universities is insufficient to justify the penalties.

For nearly 20 years, Quebec universities' funding has been based on a historical model set in 1982, with adjustments made each year for enrolment and other variables. However, Education Minister François Legault has announced that a new model will be established based on present conditions.

Provost Jack Lightstone told Senate that he approves of this approach, but although "the theory is commendable, everything depends on the formula."

Registrar Lynne Prendergast is concerned that Concordia's accessibility will be a liability if performance contracts put a premium on quick graduation. "Many students at Concordia have to work and raise families while they study, so naturally it takes many of them longer to get through their programs," she said.

Legault has also indicated that he wants the average teaching load to be raised from 3.9 courses per year to between four to six per year. This has some faculty members across Quebec worried that their research commitments will suffer, and their teaching will suffer accordingly.

A news release last Thursday from FQPPU, the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d'université, de- nounced Legault's working paper as "pas une politique de financement, mais un ensemble de mesures coercitives destinŽes à contrôler le monde universitaire."

An editorial in The Gazette on Saturday echoed these sentiments. Headlined "Knowing when to quit," it said, "Learning works best when independent of dictates handed down by the state. Universities should have the autonomy to decide how professors can best spend their time."

Financial incentives of $1,000 to $3,000 are being given by the Quebec government to graduates in computer science, computer, electrical or software engineering and multimedia, and the universities themselves are being given $2,000 incentives for each new student who enters these fields. At the same time, the tuition differential for Canadian students from outside Quebec will be increased next fall, from $3,540 to $4,080 for one full-time year. Residents of Quebec currently pay about $1,660.

- BB

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