Industry Partnerships at Ontario's Universities Help Companies, Not Students, Report Says

By KAREN BIRCHARD
The Chronicle of Higher Education
September 26, 2003, Friday

Liberal-arts departments at Ontario's public universities enroll the most students, but they do not receive a commensurate share of funds for facilities and other needs because the provincial government relies on partnerships with industry for such support, according to a report warning that this system could compromise university autonomy, academic freedom, and intellectual integrity, and could limit the breadth of research.

The report, issued by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, a left-of-center research group, said that the partnerships are hurting Ontario's universities because the companies putting up the money usually expect the funds to support computer-science, engineering, business, or other programs relevant to their industries. But those departments enroll only 24 percent of Ontario's university students, according to statistics for the 1999-2000 academic year.

That pattern, according to analysis in the report, has produced "massive inequities." Programs in the humanities, social sciences, and education, which enroll half of all college students, are the losers.

One example cited in the report is a public-private partnership, called SuperBuild, that was set up in 1999. The project received 10 billion Canadian dollars from the provincial government and an equal amount from private investors. According to the report, engineering, business, and computer studies received 51 percent of the SuperBuild money, but the liberal arts, including education, got only 3 percent to 5 percent.

The report also said that larger universities benefit from the partnerships far more than do smaller ones, and that partnership money influences decisions on what types of research to pursue.

"The kind of research that turns into patents is much more interesting to private investors than basic research that turns out fine minds," said Heather-jane Robertson, the report's lead author.

The text of the report, titled "For Cash and Future Considerations: Ontario Universities and Public-Private Partnerships," is available on the center's Web site.