Yesterday, Demetrios Nicolaides, Alberta’s minister of advanced education, announced that the provincial government had hired a private consulting firm to lead out on the new Alberta 2030 initiative.
According to Nicolaides, the Alberta 2030: Transforming Post-Secondary Education initiative is “an exciting and ambitious project to renew and transform post-secondary education in Alberta.”
Through it, the provincial government will collaborate with employers, industry, students, post-secondary institutions, and “other stakeholders” to “search for practical solutions that will ensure the adult learning system is affordable, accessible and reflective of our economy’s future needs.”
Through an RFP process, the government awarded the project this past Thursday to the Calgary-based consulting and research firm McKinsey & Company Canada to lead the consultation process. They have agreed to pay McKinsey & Company $3.7 million for the project.
In the announcement, Nicolaides said it’s essential that Alberta doubles down on efforts to do the following:
- Build a highly skilled and competitive workforce
- Strengthen the commercialization of research
- Reduce duplication
- Forge stronger relationships between employers and post-secondary institutions
These are concerning. First, reducing duplication is pretty vague, and no further details accompanied it. However, it’s worrying because it could signal the elimination of some academic programmes. If the University of Calgary runs a sociology undergraduate programme, for example, does the University of Lethbridge need one? If the University of Alberta has a law programme, does the University of Calgary need one? And so on.
The other three “efforts” in the list are concerning because they focus heavily on the commodification of post-secondary education: that the purpose of higher education is to create workers for business owners. And this may be the case for something like trade schools, but university graduate programmes, for instance, are a different story.
Employability isn’t the only value of a university education. If it were, things like liberal arts programmes wouldn’t exist. Another value of postsecondary education—and arguably the greatest value—is the education for education’s sake: the knowledge it provides, the new paradigms it helps students form, the greater perspectives it encourages graduate to take. Those are things that are difficult to commercialize. And if the goal is to commercialize education, those things may be lost in the process.
On that note, what does this mean for programmes that are difficult to commercialize? It’s one thing to commercialize a financial trading degree; it’s quite another to commercialize a gender studies degree.
The idea of the commodification of education being the goal of Alberta 2030 is further underscored by the following principles of collaboration that McKinsey will follow:
- Forge stronger relationships between employers and post-secondary institutions to help guide educational programming and work placement opportunities.
- Improve governance and financial sustainability for the system, and empower institutions to become more entrepreneurial and seek new sources of revenue.
I found the second one telling, given that another principle of collaboration is to “increase access to post-secondary education and encourage a wider range of potential learners to participate.” If you underfund post-secondary education and force them to find more non-public revenue all while promising to increase access for students, then the only way to do that is to turn universities and colleges into businesses instead of public institutions, where profit becomes the central factor in decision-making, instead of education quality.
Nicolaides has been promoting a tighter connection between business and education for a while. Here’s a tweet from February, where he links to a Globe and Mail article reporting on a study from—wouldn’t you know it—McKinsey & Company:
And here he is just last week in the Edmonton Journal citing the same McKinsey study.
McKinsey will compile the feedback they receive into a report that’s due by the end of this year. It will focus on the following 4 main areas:
- Assess global post-secondary education models and trends
- Assess Alberta’s existing post-secondary model and governance
- Assess individual institutions
- Develop an implementation roadmap by early 2021
On a closing note, you might be interested to know that McKinsey & Company made 2 political donations to the PC party: 1 in 2010 for $4,250.00 and 1 during the 2015 election. Also, Jason Kenney’s principal advisor, David Knight–Legg, happened to work for McKinsey from 2000 until 2003.