The president, the chair of the board and two senior staff of the provincial postsecondary education advisory body are all leaving their posts.
The departures come at a time of significant change in Ontario’s higher education system.
Harvey Weingarten said in an interview that he is resigning after nine years as president of the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, the government’s arms-length research and oversight group.
Mr. Weingarten said he had always planned to leave within the next year but he decided to leave slightly earlier and accepted an offer to become a senior fellow at Massey College starting at the end of September. Two of his top deputies are also leaving in a matter of weeks.
Nobina Robinson, who was named chair of the board of HEQCO by the provincial government on May 30, has resigned from the post after a little more than two months. Ms. Robinson, the former CEO of Polytechnics Canada, declined to say why she is leaving so soon after joining the board.
The Doug Ford government announced this spring that public funding for Ontario’s higher education system would transition to a performance-based model, where 60 per cent of public money would be allocated based on how institutions performed on a series of measures including graduate employment, research funding and skills acquisition. How that model will work has yet to be determined.
It’s not known what role HEQCO, an agency funded by government, might play in such a system. Whether HEQCO will continue to be a primarily research and advisory group, as it has been since 2005, or take on a role as a sector overseer remains an important question for its future. A year ago, the government handed responsibility to HEQCO for assessing mandated free-speech statements at the province’s postsecondary institutions, suggesting a willingness to see it take on some oversight functions.
Adding to the uncertainty around HEQCO’s future is the turnover among key players at Queen’s Park. A new minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Ross Romano, was appointed in the cabinet shuffle in June, replacing Merrilee Fullerton. That came on the heels of deputy minister George Zegarac announcing that he was departing for a new job as CEO of Waterfront Toronto. The assistant deputy minister responsible for higher education also departed earlier this year.
According to the act governing its functions, HEQCO’s purpose is to “assist the Minister in improving all aspects of the post-secondary education sector, including improving the quality of education provided in the sector, access to post-secondary education and accountability of post-secondary educational institutions.”
Mr. Weingarten said his decision to depart had nothing to do with his dealings with government. He added that he and his colleagues had long advocated for the switch to performance-based metrics and it was one area where he thought HEQCO had achieved important influence in the sector.
“The interaction with government has been very good,” Mr. Weingarten said. “We’ve been writing about performance-based funding or outcomes-based funding for about four years now. So we’re actually quite pleased the government is on it.”
Mr. Weingarten said every organization undergoes transitions. Also departing are two senior staff at HEQCO, Fiona Deller, senior executive director of research and policy, and Martin Hicks, executive director of data and statistics.
“We’ve had a great run together. We enjoy working together, we think we’ve done some great work, we think we’ve had some influence … but you make your contribution and it’s time to move on,” Mr. Weingarten said.
David Trick, a former assistant deputy minister responsible for higher education in Ontario, has been named interim president. The board will soon launch a search for a permanent replacement for Mr. Weingarten.
Denis Mayer has taken on the role of board chair.
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