Letting the Students Decide

Commentary, Education, Frontier Centre

Executive Summary

    Manitoba’s system of financing post-secondary education is heavily weighted towards enrolment-based grants.
    Various indicators show that this model is not satisfying the demand for lifelong learning.
    Although there are strong reasons to believe that subsidies to post-secondary learning serve both social and economic goals, this funding model is affecting the effectiveness of those subsidies.
    Enrolment-based grants encourage colleges and universities to fill seats with young, full-time students, to the detriment of older, part-time students.
    Australia’s West Review of post-secondary funding suggests replacing the current funding system with a lifelong learning endowment with a more flexible timetable.
    After a transition period, colleges and universities would directly compete to supply services that meet a wider range of student needs.
    Lifelong learning endowments would promote both more efficiency and equity. Education finance plays a critical role in determining who pursues education, with whom and when. In Manitoba and other provinces, education finance is disproportionately weighted towards enrolment-based grants to approved educational institutions. Since the subsidy is mostly distributed through institutions, the institutions set the context for availability of the subsidy. This context includes a variety of institutional policies on pricing, access, service, accreditation and pedagogical approach.
    This study reviews the rationale for institution-based enrolment subsidies for higher education. It suggests an alternative, a Manitoba Lifelong Learning Endowment.
    There are several problems with an enrolment-based subsidy to institutions. There is a lack of equity between those who pursue education at post-secondary institutions and those who pursue other modes of lifelong learning.
    As currently constructed, the institution subsidy does not encourage an efficient allocation of resources for lifelong learning. There is not a robust competitive environment in lifelong learning. The residential learning model favoured by colleges and universities are a high cost way of delivering lifelong learning.
    With innovations in finance, other ways could be developed to deliver learning more efficiently and effectively to the lifelong learning market.
    The Manitoba Lifelong Learning Endowment would correct these shortcomings in the existing system. It would convert the current institutional subsidy for teaching into a Lifelong Learning Endowment. The endowment would be made available to all Manitoban secondary school graduates on an equal basis.
    The paper suggests that each Manitoba secondary school graduate receive a lifelong learning endowment of $20 thousand.
    When mature, the cost of the proposal would be about the same as the current post-secondary system.
    Manitobans would be allowed to spend their endowment at approved education and training institutions. They would be able to allocate the spending as they see fit over time.
    The combination of extending the learning endowment to more Manitobans and introducing more providers into the market would have the effect of greatly increasing the amount of lifelong learning in Manitoba.