Private cash sparks debate

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By Wojtek Dabrowski

The provincial government’s SuperBuild initiative—a pledge to distributes $742-million to college and university building projects if schools also raise a chunk of money from the private sector—has ignited a privatization debate between academics and politicians.

Critics say the program is a step toward privatizing university and college education because the government requires institutions to raise its part of the tab from private donations.

Peter Trifonas, an education policy and curriculum specialist at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, said the drive for private dollars means donors will have an influence on course curriculums and research.

“As soon asy you let corporations on to campus,” Trifonas said. “You’re forced to abide by an ethos which the company represents. That’s dangerous.”

He said in universities should be wary of these types of donations.
“They just don’t give out money with an open agenda,” he said. “They often have specific directives in mind.”

Rosario Marchese, Ontario’s NDP postsecondary education critic, agrees.

“Of course there’s serious potential for corporate curriculum control,” he said. “It’s a reason to worry.”

But Leslie Noble, Premier Mike Harris’ campaign manager for the 1999 election and co-author of Tory platforms, the Common Sense Revolution and its sequel, the Blueprint, said people are simply afraid of change.

“They need to think outside of the box,” she said. “It’s a great idea for the private sector to come to the table and contribute.” She warned that Canada’s education system can fall behind.
“If we don’t evolve,” she said. “In 20 years our education system will be worse than Kuala Lumpur’s.”

Dianne Cunningham, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, supports Noble’s ideas.

“There has never been this [kind of] opportunity for students who need it,” Cunningham said at a press conference held at Ryerson last Tuesday.

She and Finance Minister Ernie Eves said companies want graduates who are ready to work right away with little training. They said that is exactly what SuperBuild will help to accomplish

But Marie Bountrogianni, Ontario’s Liberal colleges and universities critic, said the Conservative are the ones who are being narrow-minded.

She said SuperBuild is being implemented without any sense of fairness. “Instead of basing SuperBuild on need,” she said. “They’re basing it on competition for corporate money.”

Applications for SuperBuild grants were competitive and proposals were chosen based mostly on how much corporate donations could be raised to supplement the government’s money.  

“I’m not against private donations,” Bountrogianni said. “But donations shouldn’t be one of the essential requirements of education.”

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