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Ontario Premier Doug Ford holds a daily COVID-19 news conference from Queen’s Park in Toronto on May 5, 2020. Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government told institutions in recent weeks that it’s postponing the introduction of performance metrics for postsecondary institutions, originally scheduled for this year.Steve Russell/The Canadian Press

The Ontario government has temporarily shelved a plan to introduce performance-based funding for postsecondary institutions as it comes to grips with the economic and administrative destabilization caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alberta, though, is pushing ahead with a similar initiative that it says will be up and running by the end of this month.

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government told institutions in recent weeks that it’s postponing the introduction of performance metrics originally slated for this year. The government said it’s still committed to the policy, but for the moment will focus on the health and safety of students and the continuity of education. The government did not specify when it will revisit the new funding model, but at least one university-planning document indicates it won’t be before 2021.

“The government understands that the current climate requires flexibility as the situation evolves,” the Ministry of Colleges and Universities said in a statement. “We will continue to work with our post-secondary institutions to ensure that we proceed with an agreement in which all metrics achieve the desired outcomes for students.”

Meanwhile Alberta, after delaying the introduction of its outcomes-based funding model by about two months, says it will be in place by the end of this month. The province plans to push ahead despite the uncertainty surrounding the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis on postsecondary institutions. Alberta has not yet made public the metrics it will be using in its new system but said it will do so by May 31.

Laurie Chandler, a spokeswoman for Alberta’s Ministry of Advanced Education, did not say whether the metrics will be altered to reflect the changed economic circumstances brought on by the pandemic. She said Alberta already spends significantly more money per student than other provinces.

“Alberta needs to balance its need for delivering world-class education while also ensuring taxpayer dollars are used effectively,” she said.

Ontario has said that over the next five years up to 60 per cent of provincial operating grant funding will be based on achieving certain targets. Initial plans called for 10 metrics that would include graduation rates, employment rates, skills and the institution’s engagement with the community, as well as research funding, experiential learning opportunities and graduate earnings, among others.

But it’s a difficult time to introduce a new funding system based on measures such as employment rates, which could fluctuate more than usual due to the economic instability caused by the pandemic.

Rahul Sapra, president of OCUFA, the group that represents Ontario faculty associations, said the government should scrap the plan altogether.

“We hope that over the coming year the government will rethink this new funding formula and repeal it,” Prof. Sapra said. “Meeting these performance-based targets is dependent on multiple economic and political factors. It’s unfair to punish universities for factors beyond their control.”

Under the proposed Ontario plan, institutions could lose a portion of their funding if they fail to meet their targets. The details of these accountability measures, which differ slightly from one institution to another, were to be laid out in the new Strategic Mandate Agreements, which have also been temporarily postponed due to the demands of the pandemic.

David Lindsay, president of the Council of Ontario Universities, said the sector had been consulting with Colleges and Universities Minister Ross Romano and he had agreed to a “pause in the process” until the myriad ramifications of the pandemic become clearer.

“As you might imagine, we may need to discuss what some of the metrics mean in a post-pandemic world,” Mr. Lindsay said. “But the commitment to work with the government on it is there.”

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