Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

A Decade of Doing Things Differently: Universities and Public-Sector Reform in Manitoba

Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

A Decade of Doing Things Differently: Universities and Public-Sector Reform in Manitoba

Article excerpt

Manitobans rely on self-governed practitioners, agencies and/or institutions to deliver the majority of their vital public services. In 2001-02, 53.8 per cent ($3.7 billion) of the provincial budget was dedicated to providing operating and capital support to health-care institutions/agencies, school divisions, universities and community colleges. This figure increases when one includes municipal funding, demonstrating a significant public commitment and reliance on self-governed institutions. These institutions also enjoy significant autonomy that is protected by convention, legislation, or both. Such autonomy may present difficulties when government looks to promote not only broad-based policy and program change within the system but also change within the institutions themselves.

The University Education Review Commission, led by former Manitoba Premier Duff Roblin, was created to review university education generally. The commission's report, Doing Things Differently (Roblin report), was released in 1993 and focused on changes to the postsecondary system, including internal changes to universities to improve responsiveness, efficiency, effectiveness and accountability. However, a decade later, the government's university reform initiatives were not implemented to the extent envisaged--and, in some cases, not at all--because structural changes to support the reforms did not occur. This may be because the autonomous nature of self-governed public agencies diffuses and may in fact forestall a government's reform agenda.

I am not arguing that Manitoba's universities have stagnated; on the contrary, evidence suggests that much has changed since 1993. Nor am I assessing the quality of the reforms proposed by government; rather, I am focusing on developing a better understanding of government's ability to implement a particular reform agenda in self-governed, autonomous agencies. Thus, the existence of change at universities over the last decade is not problematic to the main thesis; instead it is the nature, scope and pace of this change that the present work seeks to measure.

Reform in higher education in Manitoba was undertaken at a time when different pressures were converging on the public sector. First, one can summarize the fiscal pressures of the 1990s by stating that provinces faced large deficits, growing levels of debt, and shrinking revenues. Directly addressing the fiscal situation facing Manitoba education, the Roblin report indicated that it was unlikely that additional monies would be available to universities in the medium term: "Universities must therefore so order their affairs as to make the best use of present resources." (1)

Beyond the fiscal situation, government was also interested in implementing new concepts of public management. Speaking about his commitment to government reform, Premier Gary Filmon stated that "[i]n every respect, we are going to have to continue to do ... more, because people continue to have greater and greater expectations of their government ... more without spending more money.... It is a process of reinventing government.... In that, there is the matter of efficiency ... always evaluating how we do things and striving to do them better." (2)

The University Education Review Commission was established in part to realize this ambitious agenda in Manitoba's postsecondary system. The commission was created with broad terms of reference, including consulting on the expectations of universities, their mission, governance structure, financial and budgetary matters, accountability and accessibility, institutional cooperation, as well as any other matter that may be germane. (3) As its title suggests, Doing Things Differently focused on the objectives of Manitoba's universities, as well as the processes they used to achieve those objectives. The Roblin report very much echoed Mr. Filmon's sentiment, that public processes must be reinvented. …

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