The Attack on Post-Secondary Education

As the pandemic hits budgets hard, Kenney’s UCP is continuing to push towards “performance-based funding” for Alberta’s universities, colleges, and post-secondary institutions. How does this contribute to the already ongoing corporate influence and profit-making trends we’ve seen in post-secondary education, and how do these changes contribute to the UCP’s broader assault on organized labour in the province? Marc Schroeder, former president of the Mount Royal Faculty Association, joins Team Advantage to discuss why low-cost, accessible, and public post-secondary education in Alberta is something we can’t afford to lose.

Education workers and students should complete AUPE’s Advanced Education Survey here. Another useful resource is the Canadian Association of University Teachers, as well as the Athabasca University Faculty Association.

A full transcript follows the break.

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Kate: Hello, and welcome to The Alberta Advantage. I’m today’s host, Kate Jacobson, and joining me today are Roberta —

Roberta: Hello.

Kate: And Patrick.

Patrick: Hello!

Kate: As well, we are happy to be joined by Marc Schroeder, former Mount Royal University Faculty Association and current member of the Executive for the Canadian Association of University Teachers. Marc, welcome.

Marc: Hello! Thanks for having me.

Kate: So, as we head back to school this fall — even if most universities and colleges, unlike K-12, are online — we thought that this would be a good time to discuss, in some detail, the pretty dramatic changes that the United Conservative Party seems to have in store for post-secondary education in this province. Like a lot of other public services that we’ve talked about on this podcast — things like healthcare, K-12 education — the post-secondary sector is a specific target for this government, and it’s a specific target for privatization and profit-making. As well, I think it’s important to think about the fact that the UCP has a particular aversion to universities for many reasons: that they teach individuals how to think and how to challenge authority (ideally), that they provide research and evidence that can undercut conservative positions and practices, they often exist — or attempt to exist in some ways — outside utilitarian and capitalist marketplaces, things like humanities, social sciences, so-called pure sciences, etc. They also offer, in their best form, a space for critical thinking and innovative problem-solving. So, despite the fact that Alberta already has the lowest participation rate for post-secondary in the country, and higher education is clearly going to be an important part of efforts to solve our current crises, including COVID-19, the sector is really under a sustained attack and may not survive the current government. So what we’re going to be doing on today’s episode is looking at the goals of the UCP in the area of higher education, the tactics that they’re using to decimate the sector, the possibilities that are available for resisting these things, and why it’s important to fight on the terrain of post-secondary education.

Roberta: So I think it’s really helpful to understand the larger developments that have been occurring in higher education over the past few decades, and really, then, how that fits in with the overall goals of the UCP government and how we’re seeing them go forward. So I think it’s important to acknowledge here that, after World War II, there was a sense that access to higher education was important for a modern society. During the war, the universities had played a huge role in helping with technological developments and many others and, after the war, there was an understanding that universities and colleges were going to be valuable for utilitarian advancements like technology and science, but also for advancing culture and democratic participation. The Massey commission, for instance, mentioned higher education as a key way to prevent Americanization of Canadian culture — so, you know, nationalism and higher education go right together really well. But the point is, I think, that in the post-war period higher education was seen as a benefit to society as a whole. I mean, there was the individual benefit of better jobs, better income, all of those sorts of things, but there was also an understanding that this would benefit society in larger ways, that there was a larger cultural and economic reality to higher education. And so governments start taking on more responsibility for covering the costs. In the post-war period, they pay about 75% of the costs of higher education.

Patrick: In Canada, education is a provincial responsibility, so most of the cost falls to the provinces, but the federal government does provide significant amounts of support to the provinces as well as federal research funding directly to researchers at the post-secondary institutions. Universities and colleges are opened across the country and, while it’s still a minority of the population — so, this is in the post-war era, it’s still a minority of the population that attends — a degree or a diploma becomes increasingly necessary to access many jobs. So, 53% of Canadians have a tertiary education credential, and 62% have some sort of tertiary education. And I would imagine a large amount of this is the way in which job training has been outsourced to post-secondary institutions.

Kate: And what we mean by that is that there are a lot of certificates or credentials that are attained through post-secondary education that are maybe looking at a period of around five months, eight months, that kind of thing, where, in a better society — and, in fact, before this kind of job outsourcing occurred — these would be the types of things that you would just learn on the job. You know, you would get a job as a healthcare aide or a pharmacy assistant and you would participate in job training as you do when you get a job. But these are things that employers are no longer willing to do, so there is this entire credential process set up so it’s outsourced and the responsibility for this job training is downloaded to the individual.

Roberta: Well, and as we’ve talked about before on the podcast with a number of different sectors, with the rise of neoliberalism by about the 1970s, 1980s, there emerges that governments should not invest in social programs or services. And, as we talked about, in other sectors, this really does change a lot in our society, and we see this a lot in post-secondary education. So we go from this idea of society benefiting from higher education — and, therefore, governments paying for a lot of the cost — to governments cutting back funding to a significant extent. Colleges and universities turn to tuition fees more than government funding and to corporate sponsorship and donations. So, in the years just before the UCP took power, government funding accounted for about 50% of the cost of higher education in Alberta. So that had dropped from about 75% to 50%. As well, institutions are increasingly run like businesses. For those of us on campus, we have a really good experience, or we know very well what this experience is like, where we have much less collegial governance; where faculty members used to run the institution, now there’s more and more upper administration that are highly paid. Supposedly, the argument is that we have to compete with the private sector to hire our presidents and our vice-presidents. And the president’s job on campus has turned mostly to fundraising and some government relations, but the fundraising side has become really key.

Marc: I think it’s important to note, also, that it’s now very common to see the heavy use of private-sector consultants, as well as search firms, for advising senior administrators and boards. There are a large number of major players operating internationally now, including McKinsey & Company, the Education Advisory Board, consultants like Alex Usher and Ken Steele in Canada, and they are playing a very major role in shaping the future of how universities and colleges are run.

Patrick: This neoliberal transition has a very utilitarian, capitalist function. So there’s a real emphasis on a need for universities to demonstrate value for job training; there’s a push to convert research into something that’s patentable, something that can go to market, as opposed to primary research or basic research on more abstract or theoretical ideas. There’s increasing pressure, and less place for things like the humanities and social sciences, but also for peer sciences and basic science. Students are increasingly treated as customers or clients — they pay an awful lot of money to receive their diplomas or their degrees, and so they therefore demand more from the institutions they’re going to.

Marc: It’s important to point out that, as part of a view of students as customers or clients, we’re also seeing the cynical pursuit of international student dollars. And I want to be very clear here — educationally meaningful international learning opportunities are a good thing. We want Canadian students going abroad to have those kinds of experiences, and we want international students to come to our campuses. There’s lots of value in those things. But the commodification of education in pursuit of a high-paying international market in the interest of higher revenues is not a good thing.

Kate: I also think it’s important to acknowledge that the reason many international students seek out credentials in Canada, the United States, other English-speaking countries, is because of global imperialism that puts a higher standard, or a higher status, on credentials obtained from universities and institutions in the imperial core, regardless of the actual quality of education that these students may or may not be getting. And post-secondary institutions in these countries are essentially extorting students for these credentials that they are courting.

Patrick: Yeah. And, on top of all of this, we also have the adjunctification of faculty. And that’s a very fancy way of saying that more and more of the teaching that goes on in post-secondary institutions is done by adjunct faculty or contract workers like myself who don’t have permanent faculty positions, or by graduate students. And it’s a really important tool in this entire process, and it’s bound up with a number of things — so, the adjunctification of faculty is also tied up with the overproduction of grad students. Universities are churning out PhDs at ever-increasing numbers with very, very, very few jobs to actually go around. In my own field of history, I think it’s about 50% of PhD graduates go on to permanent, full-time work. And so that kind of overproduction of an unused labour force drives down wages, and it makes it easier to fire people, and it therefore increases the control that administrations have over what’s taught and what ideas are allowed to be expressed in the university; and, as we’ll see as we go on, that becomes a very useful tool for governments like the UCP.

Roberta: Well, and I think it is really important to acknowledge, here, along what Patrick was saying, that the UCP in particular has a major concern about so-called experts who work in higher education, that there is, and has been, a long-term effort to undercut the value of expert research and the work that academics do. And part of this is the adjunctification, to use that fancy word, of faculty, that one of the benefits of tenure in the academic system is that it allows academics to speak out on difficult issues, to do research that might not be particularly popular, and to really challenge governments and other officials in important ways. And by making a lot of faculty part-time, it really does ease the ability of administrators and their political funders to influence the kind of people who work on campus, that it’s much easier to get rid of people that maybe rock the boat, or that teach topics that might be controversial, and to really put a lot of pressure on these part-time faculty members to pick up the slack where full-time faculty members are just not able to do so anymore because so few have been hired over the years. And it is really a horrible situation that we’ve put our students in, that — if we think about it — we have increased the cost of their education enormously and, at the same time, we’ve made their instructors part-time, making maybe a few thousand dollars a course and trying to survive on that and really being limited in what they’re able to do and what they’re able to say. And so all of this has led to real crisis, I think, in higher education, and these UCP attacks are part of the bigger attack on public services, but, also, a larger attack on higher education itself.

Patrick: In addition to all the money that students are paying — and, especially this coming term — if there are students that are angry about what they’re paying in tuition while having to do mostly online studies, I can really understand it. But another thing is that, with adjunctification, often what you have happen is: courses picked up by new people and taught by new people, and there’s this kind of constant churn of writing and creating new courses, which means they’re often kind of in a first-draft phase, and they’re not very good, frankly. And one of the benefits of having a stable position is teaching a course over and over again — you can really develop ideas and make them better and stronger and communicate them better. So there’s a lot of knock-on effects to adjunctification that impact both on the lives of the academy that have ripple effects through society, but also just generally make teaching worse.

Marc: I’d like to point out there that there are, of course, arguments made about the overproduction of PhDs through graduate programs, but it’s also important to remember that a large percentage of institutions’ academic work is still being carried out by contract faculty. That academic work is vitally important, and, to some extent, institutions are making a choice to carry out that work through the use of contract appointments as opposed to offering stable, tenure-track appointments with job security. So for example, at my university, Mount Royal, around half of the credit instruction is done by faculty on contract appointments. So they undertake a huge amount of the workload that’s required to keep the institution running. There is work there for them, but it is not currently being remunerated at the level of full-time faculty or with job security. And there are lots of reasons why administrations do that. Part of it is flexibility rhetoric, part of it is, of course budgetary; but it certainly makes for a pool of labour that is more precarious and easier to control. I also think it’s important to see this as a huge waste of potential and inefficiency in our post-secondary system; we train people through Master’s and PhD programs to be able to carry out world-leading research and contributions to knowledge, and the fact that a large percentage of work is being done on campus by people who are not actually remunerated to undertake research, for example, is a waste of that human potential.

Roberta: Well, and the reality is, I think we have to acknowledge that this gig economy is hitting universities in the same way that it’s hitting other areas. And so, for people who don’t feel connected to universities or the kind of labour that’s done at our institutions, that’s totally fair — we work in a very strange area — but the reality is that this is so similar to the gig economy elsewhere where the neoliberal push has pushed for part-time employees who don’t get benefits, who are easy to lay off, who don’t fall under contracts in the same way as full-time faculty — or, full-time employees elsewhere. I slip up, see? We’re so similar to elsewhere. And so I think even if universities seem very distant from your own lives, this adjunctification and the reliance on part-time faculty is just like every other part of the economy where it’s about creating this easy group of people to put all the work on for low pay — and easy to fire, if you need to, when budgets get tight.

Kate: So, here I want to take a little bit more of a deeper look in what the UCP’s game plan is for post-secondary in Alberta. So, for a little bit of context, there was definitely some pre-election planning and a real intent to really implement, very quickly and comprehensively, post-election. So they weren’t going to get a) bogged down in public consultation, and b) not getting the opposition time to get organized — whether that is their opposition in the legislature, in the NDP, or their opposition in other organized parts of the extra-parliamentary left — so, civil society groups, trade unions, etc. And I think we really saw that with the MacKinnon Report that came out in September of last year. And it was very much political cover for pre-ordained conclusions and strategy; and this is something that we are going to see the UCP do over and over again, and it’s a tactic that they continue to use.

Marc: Today, the attacks on public post-secondary education in Alberta need to be seen as part of a larger attack on public education in Alberta generally, as well as an attack on public services. To understand these attacks with respect to post-secondary specifically, we need to understand the form they’re taking and their objectives, first of all. The overall objectives may be similar to those for the transformation of K-12 in the province, but they’re being approached differently. As many of your listeners will know, the province is reaching directly into the K-12 curriculum and is really playing up the angle of students as future workers who need to be educated so that they can fulfill a labour market need. With post-secondary, it’s not as straightforward — the government cannot easily reach in directly and modify post-secondary program curricula, so they have to pursue those kinds of objectives through different means such as performance-based funding (which we’re going to talk about a little later). And I think it’s also important to understand, or to think about, who’s interests these objectives and attacks are being pursued for. And, finally, I’d like to think about, or frame the discussion in terms of, the need to understand the relationship between the attacks on public education and PSE on the one hand and the concurrent assault on organized labour in Alberta on the other. The two aren’t independent. Organized labour is going to be the means by which we collectively can most powerfully defend and advance public education in the province.

Roberta: So, the first move after the MacKinnon Report, the first move by the UCP in the summer of 2019, was to purge members of the boards of governors of most of the institutions across the province. Now, this often happens when governments change, that we see a change in the makeup of public boards and committees, but the NDP, as a comparator, waited until previously-appointed boards of governors had their terms expire, and then they appointed new people; the UCP stepped in right away after their election and basically purged boards of governors. And what they did is: installed people who were shockingly — I know you’re all going to be shocked by this — that were donors of the party and/or supported the sort of economic vision that the UCP was promoting. And one of the things I think is important here is that there is a major conflict of interest that has emerged as a result of these appointments. I’ll just Mount Royal University, which both Marc and I work at, as an example. Our board chair is also the CEO of a major oil and gas company in Alberta and, as a result, earned major tax breaks with the huge cuts that the government introduced with their, quote, “job creation tax break,” or tax cuts. He received huge amounts of money for his company — and, I would assume, personally, given his own income levels — and those cuts are being used to justify the cuts to post-secondary education. So we have no revenue, we’ve cut all this tax base, and now, suddenly, we have no money for post-secondary education and need to make cuts. And I think most of the board members appointed by the UCP fall into this similar category, where their companies and their industries have benefited greatly from the tax cuts implemented by the government that are now going to be used to justify major cuts. And so I would really love to see those board chairs, and others, stand up and refuse to sign off on budgets that are going to cut major amounts of money that they earned, or maybe donate some of those tax breaks back to the institutions.

Patrick: An early incursion that happened as part of this UCP intrusion into post-secondary education was also the imposition of the so-called Chicago principles in late 2019 and early 2020. So, this is this emphasis on a kind of absolutist notion of free speech on campus drawing from free expression principles articulated by the University of Chicago. So it was the government seeking to establish itself as the representatives, or the defenders, of free speech. We’ve also seen this before with Jason Kenney talking about social engineering in the K-12 education, so it’s kind of a piece of this larger UCP ideology where they look around and they look at educated people, academics, campuses, teachers, as basically being politically correct totalitarians who have taken over these institutions and are stifling ideas in favour of radical left-wing orthodoxies. I would note that, just as the university I work at was sending its free speech pledge to the government, I was taken aside by a friendly older colleague and warned not to talk about my Marxism too loudly on campus. So, you know, it really tells you where things are at and what free speech is specifically being covered. Part of this imposition of free speech mandates include probing compliance — so, asking universities to send in their statements of policies around campus free speech. This is also tied up into the development of the performance-based funding, which we keep foreshadowing but we will eventually get to.

Marc: So, not only was the imposition of the Chicago Principles important to establishing a narrative that the government wanted to establish, as has already been mentioned, but it was very useful in probing compliance, whether that was intended or not in the imposition of the Chicago Principles on institutions. It was very revelatory in how boards and senior administrators responded to the directive from government that they implement a particular type of free speech policy. They rolled over essentially immediately without a peep of protest. And I want to contrast this with the United States — even the president of the University of Chicago, who is a champion of the Chicago Principles, had the courage to push back publicly against Donald Trump and the Trump administration when Donald Trump attempted, through executive order, to impose the Chicago Principles on United States colleges and universities, threatening to withhold some type of federal funding should institutions not proclaim the Chicago Principles. The president of the University of Chicago publicly pushed back on the government on the grounds that it constituted dangerous government overreach and interfered in legitimate discussions on campus about the nature of free speech and how it might be handled in academic institutions. And it was very disheartening to see that there was no such courage or principle demonstrated by university presidents or board chairs in our province. We could go into the weeds on the Chicago Principles — and I know it’s something that the Alberta Advantage podcast has addressed in the past — but I think it’s important to hold this in our minds as we look at performance-based fundings and investment management agreements that the government is imposing on institutions now and think about the narrative of free expression on campus versus what will be a subordination of institutions to government policy objectives through mechanisms like performance-based funding. For institutions to fulfill their roles to society, it’s important that academic staff members have academic freedom and that the government not direct, not control, either directly or indirectly, the types of programs that institutions might put on. It’s, in fact, the imposition of performance-based funding, for example, that actually is a mechanism for undermining academic freedom and free expression on campus by limiting and constraining the kinds of things that institutions might do.

Roberta: Well, and we have talked in detail before about the Chicago Principles — and I encourage all of you to go back and listen to that episode — but one of the things that I think that connects here, as well, is the idea of this challenge to expert research and to experts themselves, that the Chicago Principles and this idea of unmitigated free speech seems to declare that every opinion, or every idea, is just as valid as another; and what universities are about is about pushing the actual research and evidence to support our points. And we don’t always do it well, and there are definite problems with what we do on campuses, but the reality is that these Chicago Principles, and this idea of free speech broadly, is intended to undercut our expert knowledge in various areas and to say, “You know, well, their opinion is just their opinion, and anybody can say whatever they want without consequence.” And so it is part of a bigger attack on post-secondary than just this idea of free speech itself.

Patrick: On top of the issues of free speech and apparent conflicts of interest in the new board placements, we also see a pattern towards austerity budgeting. So there’s especially deep cuts in post-secondary education operating cuts over multiple budgets for 2019-2020, anticipated budgets through to at least 2023. So it’s partially about cutting government expenses, sure, but it’s not only that. So the cuts to post-secondary education are especially deep compared to other, but still bad, cuts elsewhere. And, again, it’s a mechanism for enforcing compliance. So, austerity at the university level is, once again, very much about having these controls — so, controlling the boards, controlling what can be said and done on campus and having mechanism to punish universities, is then also centralized in the government’s hands through the ability to put budget at threat through things like perfomance-based funding models. So the austerity budgeting and the operating grant cuts are very much tied up with this concept of performance-based funding.

Kate: Another part of the UCP’s attack on the post-secondary can be really seen with the austerity budgeting that has been going on. So, there has been particularly deep cuts to post-secondary operating grants over multiple budgets — so, both 2019 and 2020 — as well as anticipated budgets through at least 2023. And, yes, absolutely, this is part of the government’s ideological plan to cut government expenses as a way of manufacturing consent for privatization of public services, and also for lower taxes, but I think it’s worth pointing out that the cuts to post-secondary are particularly deep compared to other — still bad, of course, and it isn’t a competition — cuts elsewhere, but it is absolutely a particular attack on post-secondary as a sector, and I think part of that is a mechanism for enforcing compliance with all the other things we’ve outlined in this episode within the post-secondary sector: so, enforcing compliance with layoffs, with performance-based funding, with the Chicago Principles. It’s basically a way of saying, “We’re doing this already; if you don’t comply with these things, we will just completely destroy post-secondary;” or, more likely, completely destroy whatever institution sticks its head up a little bit too far.

Marc: Building on austerity budgeting, we also saw, at the beginning of this year, the introduction of performance-based funding in Alberta. And I think of both austerity budgeting and performance-based funding as two prongs of an approach to transform institutions into enforced compliance. You’ve done a show on performance-based funding, I know, but for your listeners, the basic idea is that the government sets a series of metrics that institutions will be measured against, their performance will be measured against, and a portion of their operation grant funding — which is called the at-risk portion — is tied to the institution successfully meeting those targets. And, in Alberta, that percentage of at-risk funding will eventually rise to be 40% of operating grant. And so this allows the government to enforce metrics that have to do with aligning, for example, the enrolments and outputs of programs with labour market needs, or requirements that institutions take on a particular percentage of international students, or — as might happen in the future — the linking of performance-based funding to post-graduation income or rate of employment coming out of a program. So there are, really, hooks the government can put into the way that institutions govern themselves and, ultimately, will guide the types of programs that they choose to put on or not. And I think this plays a role with austerity budgeting in the sense that austerity budgeting is a way of, in my view, the government telling institutions to tear down the old to make way for the new. Performance-based funding is, then, the carrot that follows on the stick.

Roberta: One of the interesting examples of this performance-based funding that really was telling, I think, was this tying of government funding to the expenses and the revenues that universities were receiving from elsewhere. They have since abandoned this plan, but the original idea was basically: if the university brought in any funding from anywhere else, including research grants or private-sector funding or anything else, the government grants could go down in response to that. So, basically, the idea being that, as other funding was coming in, governments would reduce their funding to the institutions. And I think, while they’ve abandoned this as a ridiculously terrible idea, I think it’s very telling of what their plan is, which is, really, to shift the responsibility for higher education and the funding of higher education away from the government purse, and away from tax dollars, into these private funds, whether these be tuition or research dollars or other things. And they really have this sense that they can just shift the money, that the government will pay less because you’re getting money from elsewhere; but I think universities rightly pointed out, and managed to win this fight so far, to say that that’s ridiculous, that the funding coming in doesn’t replace the government operating grants, and that what they’re trying to is shift responsibility, much more broadly, away from government funding.

Kate: And this is really all about a transformational approach to post-secondary education in Alberta. And what it’s leading to is the post-secondary sector being subordinated to short-term and instrumentalist public policy initiatives that are in the service of private interests as opposed to what we would like to see in a post-secondary sector, which is in the service of a broadly conceived common good. We’re going to see the alignment of these programs with government priorities — and government priorities is quite a generous term here, because we know they’re going to be quite determined by the private sector — though we’re also going to see this big refocusing and intensification on the narrow focus on the labour market, on commodification, on having employable skills, and also the commercialization of research and the ability of the private sector and corporations to, essentially, purchase research at post-secondary institutions. And this is something we’ve already seen at the University of Calgary. And one of the things that is going to happen as part of this transformational approach to the post-secondary sector in Alberta is the McKinsey Report. So, the government has commissioned a report from McKinney & Company in yet another pseudo-consultation with pre-ordained conclusions. We could really get into the weeds with McKinsey, but there are a couple things I really do want to note here. One — yes, this is the consulting company that Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg famously worked for, and yes, it is also the same company that advised Loblaws while it was involved in an extremely famous bread price fixing scandal. The way consultants and consulting works under capitalism, and particularly companies like McKinsey & Co., is that they’re essentially mercenaries you can hire so you don’t have to get your hands dirty when it comes to austerity, or mass layoffs, or downsizing, or cutting programs. And companies — or governments, in this case — essentially hire them to do their dirty work and have something they can point to to justify mass layoffs or a reduction of service. So they’re really some of the most banal and most awful types of people operating under capitalism. And McKinsey is particularly awful; I do just really want to go down this quick list of some thing McKinsey has done. They have consulted with an Oxycontin manufacturer to, quote, “Turbo-charge opioid sales during the opioid crisis by giving this manufacturer lobbying advice and plans to double their sales.” US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, ICE, thought that McKinsey’s proposals on how to cut costs in immigrant detention went too far. McKinsey’s proposals went too far for the famously evil Immigrations and Customs Enforcement of the United States of America. The also have well-documented collaboration with the literal CIA, they helped the Saudi Arabian government identify dissidents, they do a lot of insider trading, etc, etc. So they are a particularly awful company, and they really do have this fundamentalist ideology of the market that is so common in modern conservatism — they basically want to turn Alberta into a Rube Goldberg machine that takes money from working people and gives it to billionaires and the private sector, and McKinsey is just there to grease the wheels.

Marc: I think we can learn a lot from what McKinsey has been asked to do by reading the UCP government’s request for proposals for consultants — and, of course, McKinsey & Company was ultimately selected by the government to do this work as a result of that process. I have spent some time reading that RFP. It helps to really shine a light on exactly what Alberta 2030 is going to entail. Alberta 2030: Transform Post-Secondary Education, as it’s called, as written, is portrayed not just being about reduced public spending on advanced education — although that is a prominent theme throughout the RFP document — and, as I’ve said before, I’d go so far as to suggest that putting education on a 2019-2020 “free austerity” diet is a key tactic of a plan to render institutions compliant. But, beyond mere austerity, Alberta 2030 is intended as a full, systemic transformation of PSE in the province, forcibly rewiring it so that it’s focused on serving private interest and capital, the needs of industry, the needs of employers. So, think PSE as subordinated to supporting a provincial, quote, “Open-for-business,” unquote, approach. According to the RFP, the PSE system’s task will be to operate what it calls a talent pipeline in the ways that it’s directed according to a re-imagined system of governance; and how it’s directed, of course, by the government in the service of capital. Note how carefully that Alberta 2030, although it was positioned by the government as a review, is not, in fact, an independent review, but a highly prescribed, quote, “co-creation plan effort in tandem with government.” So it seeks to transform post-secondary education so that it can deliver on what the government wants to sell as an overall economic vision and strategy for the province. The government explicitly claims that the aim is to, quote, “re-frame the roles that all stakeholders need to play,” unquote, to adapt to the vision and strategy and to enforce these through what it calls an integrated suite of levers for compliance. So here’s where instruments like performance-based funding and investment management agreements, entered through recent amendments to the Post-Secondary Learning Act, really come alive. Through the development of Alberta 2030, the government says that it will identify the relevant initiatives and then McKinsey will be, quote, “responsible for ensuring that they are considered in the development,” unquote, of the Alberta 2030 strategy and road map. McKinsey’s deliverables will provide cover for the government to spin its ideological, preconceived plans as being objectively determined global best practices tailored to Alberta’s particular fiscal and economic situation. So, again, this consultancy firm providing cover, like the MacKinnon Report did, for directions the government’s decided it already wants to move. Regarding teaching, the government’s clearly interested in digitization strategies and what it calls leveraging changing modes of learning delivery, such as through an online course delivery platform. Regarding research, the RFP describes an emphasis on commercialization of research and intellectual property — so, essentially, publicly-funded and student-funded research (student-funded through tuition) then, of course, being opened for the corporate world to make use of and profit off of. But, surprisingly, faculty are barely mentioned. Governance is to be re-architected with more centralized control. For all of their flaws, universities follow what is, at least on paper, a fairly democratic governance model in which faculty and non-academic staff and others play a role in the governance of the institution. And I think we can expect that to come under attack in Alberta 2030.

Kate: And one of the big things I think that the McKinsey report is going to push is making post-secondary less reliant on government grants, and this is going to translate into private donations from corporations and the wealthy, cuts to jobs and to programs, as well as higher tuition for students. So, ultimately, the McKinsey Report is going to paint a vision of higher education that says students will pay more and they will get a much worse education experience, and it will be much worse for the people who are delivering that educational experience to them, and it will all be organized to the aims and the desires of capital in our society. And that’s ultimately what making post-secondary less reliant on government grants actually looks like in real life. The other thing I think the McKinsey report is certainly going to push, based on its request for proposal as well as the MacKinnon Report, is assessing the viability of institutions, i.e. shutting them down and consolidating. This is particularly concerning for rural communities where these institutions are big employers in their areas. And I think it’s also very concerning, as well, for Campus Saint-Jean, which is, as far as I know, the only Francophone post-secondary institution in Alberta.

Roberta: Why does any of this matter? Aren’t academics just elite, ivory tower assholes anyway? I mean, that’s what we hear all the time.

Kate: I mean, I basically unironically believe this, so I’m going to let someone else take it.

Patrick: I totally live in my ivory tower that is funded off my $25,000 a year salary.

Roberta: Yeah, I mean, this is the rhetoric that we hear all the time, and the reality is really, actually, quite different. It can be very difficult for people who don’t have a higher education — there is a sense that we are elitists and that we are always looking down our noses at people who don’t have a higher education, but that’s actually not really the case. Higher education plays a really important role in our society. Now, there’s lots of problems with our model of higher education, and we need to acknowledge those — we could do a whole other podcast just on some of those issues, especially our colonial history and our relationship with the colonization of Indigenous peoples — and we also have to acknowledge our separation from the front lines of issues, though many academics are working on that. But it also is an incredibly important sector. And I think it’s important to acknowledge that it is an important sector for economics reasons — this is the argument made all the time, that there is a job training component to higher education, especially in the colleges and the professional programs (though some, like me, might argue that professional programs do not belong in universities, but that’s a whole other discussion). And it also employs a large number of people; Kate mentioned the large employment in rural communities and elsewhere, but there are a large number of people outside of academics who are employed by universities. And higher education is a place for the creation of new and innovative ideas and projects. It really is the best way for people to improve their economic class and to excel in our modern, ridiculous society. But even more important than the economic contributions that higher education makes, society really does need higher education. It helps us advance research in crucial areas — for instance, I can pretty much guarantee it’s going to be university labs that will find the COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, I think, unironically, Jason Kenney, a few months ago, was extolling the virtues of the U of A medical labs that were doing exceptional research on the COVID-19 vaccine, without any conscious notion of the cuts that he has been targeting that institution, and not acknowledging that, really, that is where the reserach is going to take place. Universities also, and higher education in general, ask the necessary questions to solve major problems that we face in society: climate change, racial injustice, rising fascism, economic inequality, automation; all of these major things, universities and colleges are oriented to work on solving those problems and considering how we might move through them. As well, while this is not to criticize those without a higher education or to think any less of them, it is important to recognize that a more highly educated population tends to be healthier, there’s less crime, those populations tend to be more engaged politically, they’re higher paid because of the degrees that they have and, therefore, there’s a higher tax base — unless you live in a province like ours — and people with a higher education tend to volunteer more. And so it is important, the contributions that higher education makes to our society. And so we need to think about some of those.

Patrick: To come back to that last point about educated populations, I think it’s really good that you mentioned that this is not about looking down the nose aat people without post-secondary educations. And, indeed, I think it becomes an argument for — as much as we’re standing here and criticizing the UCP, it is not necessarily with the intention of uncritically defending the existing university system and trying to do a rearguard defence to maintain institutions that are, in fact, deeply flawed. They could be much more democratic, they could be much more open to many more people in our society, and, indeed, they really should be. I am a historian by training, and I study working-class radicals and intellectuals in the 19th century, and I think we’ve come a long way from the utopian vision some radicals used to have about what education will do, that it was basically the pathway to social emancipation. But, nevertheless, having studied the really radical fights that people who were tinsmiths and other working class or artisan workers did to just be able to choose their own education, to get an education, and to learn things that weren’t prescribed to them by middle class clergymen and reformers that wanted to make good workers for the mills; I think it’s a tradition that we need to reassert and to grab hold of, that education is for all. And having institutions where anyone from any background can have the necessary time to sit and think deeply about the complex things in their lives and in the lives of everyone in our society is a fundamental social good, and it is something that we have to have if we want to have a good society.

Marc: I think that’s an excellent point and summary. Viewing this in light of not only austerity budgeting and performance-based funding, investment management, and so on, that really are attempting to constrain what institutions and the kinds of programs they put on and the kinds of research that they do because they’re incentivized to do it by capital and by private interests. I think we have to understand Alberta 2030 and its goals as one that limits the freedom of workers and everyday citizens who would like to be able to go to university to pursue matters that aren’t simply workforce training that’s prescribed through these kinds of transformational mechanisms that are now being put in place.

Kate: I also think one of the things that’s so frustrating for me about the way post-secondary education is currently set up is: because it is mostly people who do post-secondary education right after high school and it is meant as training to enter the workforce — it is something you do after you graduate high school, but before you enter the workforce for the rest of your life — it’s this really corrosive idea that you only go to post-secondary education to a) get a job, but b) also only at a certain time in your life, and once you’re no longer at that time in your life, this is not the kind of thing you can be participating in and engaging in. And, obviously, getting into a vision of what post-secondary would look like in a society that was good is basically a whole other episode, but I do think it’s really tragic that the current way it exists, and the intensification of that under the UCP, says that post-secondary education is only for certain people at certain times in their life for a certain period of time and, after that, you are a good worker until you die.

Patrick: Yeah, and so that really speaks to what these changes in education are going to mean. So the goal appears, through the subordination of post-secondary education to short-term instrumentalist government policy and instrumentalist government objectives that ultimately serve private interests, is that this is going to mean less access to the university for people from lower income groups. And we really have to see education — as, Roberta, you noted — education is really connected with social mobility; so, if education is financially inaccessible to more and more people, it means that it creates a kind of self-reproducing “rich” that can’t be penetrated and which sort of recreates itself by having control of yet another institution. And it’ll also mean less access for traditionally margianalized groups, so: LGBTQ+ people, Indigenous peoples, non-white people, new immigrants to the country, people with disabilities, etc. And especially — where I work, we have an extensive connection with a program where humanities education is extended out to people from marginalized communities around Calgary; it’s really, really fundamentally important to what the educational goals of the university is, is that those are people who have lived, in many cases, very difficult lives, who are being offered an opportunity to have access to a university education, and the ways that their vast experiences — some of them very challenging experiences, but their vast life experiences — bring really challenging ideas to the table and force academics like myself to reconsider the way we think about things. So, really, the big ramifications to this attack on the university institutions is really — we have to consider.

Roberta: Well, and we’ve seen over the past few decades, with the higher cost of higher education, that we now have massive debt loads for students, and this is really important, I think, to talk about in a little bit of detail — not for a super long time, but — with a couple of points. The real important point here is that, if students have to take on debt to go to higher education institutions — first of all, the evidence shows that people from lower-income families are less likely to take the risk on the debt required to get that higher education that may increase their wealth. But, also, even if you take on the debt, you’re now thinking about ten to twenty years of paying down debt once you leave the universities or colleges and go into the workforce. And this has major repercussions. First of all, just for consumer spending — as much as that makes me want to vomit to even mention that — it does have an effect on that. But, also, it really limits the opportunities that people have leaving their institutions of higher learning when they go out into the workforce, that it really pushes people into jobs that will pay well and offer some level of security, maybe in return for some sort of public service that they may have wanted to do in their life. So they’re not able to take on a lower-paid job in the non-profit sector or some other area, for instance, to try and help fix the world; instead, they’re forced into the capitalist system as the workers they’ve been trained to be. Also, as we mentioned, there’s going to be a greater orientation to profit and to the marketplace rather than the needs of society and people. So, with all of these changes to performance-based metrics and government cutbacks and other sorts of areas, there’s less independent research for the greater good and more of it targeted to the benefit of those who can afford it, so: pharmaceutical companies, oil and gas, wealthy individuals; they can afford to pay for research, but people in poverty may not be able to get the research that they need to improve their society. As well, there’s more of a focus on job training and utilitarian education, and this is a huge problem in higher education because we can’t really predict what the job market’s going to look like — it’s really hard to orient the learning that happens within the higher education to this job market demand. And how will people adapt? One of the arguments we often make within universities in particular is that we’re taining people to think, to critically think, to problem-solve, to do big skills that will help them adapt to the changing job market, but if we focus entirely on training for one job, what will that mean for people when they lose that or that job disappears for some reason? And I think it’s also important to talk about the exclusion of critical fields that will happen with these changes, with the focus on market needs and the needs of the wealthy in our society. We’re going to lose a lot of important fields; that connects in with what Patrick was saying earlier about the access from traditionally marginalized groups. So we may lose programs like women and gender studies, Indigenous studies, philosophy; even programs like biology, math, and physics are on the chopping block with these cuts because they don’t seem to apply to a very particular workforce model. And then we also will see less engagement in politics and, unfortunately, less critical thinking; and, from my perspective, this is really what the UCP want from all of these changes, is this population that mindlessly goes about their jobs and don’t question and challenge the government. We want mindless workers who have gone through some sort of factory system of higher education who just follow along after the dictators who are telling us what to do. And I think that is one of the major problems that we have to face with these cuts to higher ed.

Marc: One of the things that I know from my work with the Canadian Association of University Teachers is how seriously faculty associations and other groups outside of Alberta are taking the developments in our province. I think there is growing alarm in the rest of the country about the brazen assaults on post-secondary that Jason Kenney’s government has been launching here, as well as assaults on organized labour. I think faculty and staff at our institutions in this country really need to understand, if they haven’t seen this yet, that, actually, there’s quite a bit of support for pushback in this province to these really troubling developments that we’ve been talking about. And I just wanted to start with the observation that, if we wait for our university board chairs and institutional presidents to do something, I think the evidence is fairly clear that that’s not going to happen. Neoliberal rationality was already well-established among career academic administrators before now, and we’re now very dangerously seeing many senior administrations pivot to take up the Alberta 2030 rhetoric, even before the reports have been released and official buy-in has been requested. For example the University of Calgary has very recently come out with their leadership proposal, which they’re calling “Growth Through Focus,” and it essentially reads right out of Alberta 2030 and the UCP’s own narrative — the goal is for the University of Calgary to become Canada’s most entrepreneurial university.

Patrick: [laughs]

Kate: [noise of disgust] Disgusting to me.

Marc: Yeah. And, essentially, we can expect some major restructurings of the University of Alberta. Mount Royal’s first-ever chancellor, who was just appointed to the role, has taken up, in interviews with the press, narratives very similar to the government’s around the primary purpose of education being to match students with employment opportunities and so forth. So we can’t expect our nominal leaders, our management class who maybe dreamt they were leaders, to actually play a role leading the defence of post-secondary.

Kate: So, looking at the current state of post-secondary education in Alberta, I think it’s worth looking at the terrain that we have and thinking about where opposition to this plan and this trajectory for the post-secondary sector might emerge from. There’s a variety of actors: university boards and presidents, campus unions representing both non-academic and academic staff, student associations, community members. There are a lot of people involved in post-secondary in Alberta. So where do we think any opposition to this might emerge from, and where is it definitely not going to emerge from?

Roberta: Well, I think Marc already made the really important point about board chairs and presidents, that they are definitely not going to be the opposition here — they’ve in fact been put in place to not oppose this system and support it. And I think we’ve talked about this on the podcast, also, about the role of student associations and their lack of opposition within this province; that, as long as I’ve been in this province, student associations here have been focused on appeasing governments and working with them rather than challenging them, so they tend to have this networking focus that they get in good with the government and maybe it’ll lead to jobs or other sorts of things. And there’s really this idea, broadly, in this province — and I think it’s reflected in the student associations — of working with the government instead of opposing them, which I find such a weird political stance in this province anyway. But we also saw evidence of this — the minister was flanked by student association leaders when he made his January 20th, 2020 announcement introducing the performance-based funding in Alberta. And some associations have even welcomed this regime publicly, which is very concerning given that students are going to be the ones to be affected the most from this.

Kate: I completely agree with everything you’ve said about student associations in particular, Roberta, but I want to tease out what I think is an important difference between university boards and presidents and student associations, and that is that university boards and presidents are structurally never going to be able to offer any kind of real resistance, I believe, to this government or their plans for the post-secondary sector because of what their literal function is within the ecosystem of post-secondary. Their function is, essentially, as management, essentially as management’s management, and the types of people that are drawn into board of governors positions, there’s a huge overlap with the private sector and private capital, so we’re just never going to see that. Students — while they have, so far, been extremely not promising and not done anything that shows that they’re really able to, or willing to, oppose this government — I think, structurally, absolutely have the ability to, and there have been very strong student movements in this country, most famously Quebec. So, with students, it’s not so much a case of, “These are people who are our enemy structurally,” regardless, really, of who is filling these positions, but, “These are people who are not politically educated, not politically organized, and are not taking the actions they need to to actually defend and save advanced education in Alberta.” And I think that that is a really important thing to keep in mind when we’re thinking about: who is it worth taking the time to educate? Who are our allies going forward? Who are the people who are going to be in this struggle with us?

Patrick: Another avenue for pushback and radicalization can come from campus unions. And, so far, it’s been the unions representing non-academic staff that have been the most vocal, but the non-academic staff are also in the most vulnerable positions on campus — facing the worst of the cuts, they’re on the front lines, and they have the least powerful voices.

Kate: I actually want to argue that point a little bit, Patrick, because I would argue that non-academic staff actually have quite a lot of power on a university campus in terms of the labour that they perform, they just often don’t have as much power in the media or in meetings because they often tend to be non-credentialed, it might include workers who don’t have post-secondary education themselves. But I think when it comes to looking at power, a withdrawal of labour from non-academic staff at any post-secondary institution in Alberta would absolutely shut that academic institution down. So when I totally get your point about how they’re often not given a voice or seen as powerful in the media or in meetings or in these formal structures, but I think, in a material way, these workers actually do have quite a lot of power.

Roberta: It’s such an important point that you make, Kate, that even though the voices are often repressed on campus and off campus, they really do have the power. I think the hard part is that non-academic staff, at least on our campus at Mount Royal, are facing these cuts, really, on the front lines —

Kate: Absolutely.

Roberta: — that they’re really being put on their back foot, and it’s very hard for them to push for a forward-facing agenda in the sense of a broader vision for higher education when they’re fighting this rearguard action, this constant fighting against this austerity budgeting and the cuts. And, I mean, we’ve been seeing for at least five years on campus how the non-academic staff are the ones that keep having to take all the extra work being caused by cutbacks and the other issues. And it’s really intense, and they are incredibly demoralized. And I think there’s a lot of sense — you know, this elitism that people think academics have (which, honestly, many academics are elite assholes and act that way), but I think there’s also a sense on campus that academic staff feel that they are often seen as less valuable and less important; whether that’s true or not, I think, is a very different question. And I think you raise an important point, Kate, and I really hope that the non-academic staff continue to fight. The U of C non-academic staff associations, you’re doing great — keep up the good work! [laughs]

Marc: I think we have to remember that the work that a university or a college does, and the benefits that it provides, are socially produced; they’re produced by all members of that institution, whether they’re non-academic staff or academic staff or whether they’re contract versus full-time academic staff. The work of all of those people goes into socially producing the function of the institution and the vaule that it provides to society. So I think too often in Alberta — and maybe too often generally — we divide ourselves along these artificial lines. And I think, to Kate’s point, if non-academic staff were to withdraw their labour, the system would grind to a halt, same as if faculty withdrew their labour.

Patrick: Alberta has a lot of organizing that still needs to be done at the academic level. The depoliticizing nature, which is a purposeful project of decades of conservative governments in Alberta — there’s a really depoliticized structure baked in to Alberta’s academic staff associations and faculty associations more generally, or even faculty unions, can run into that problem. And there is also this issue of a sort of class division, as it were, within academic staff, as well, because the adjunctariat that we’ve talked about earlier in the episode are often in a much more precarious situation and can be very wary about putting their necks out — I mean, it’s not that they won’t and not that we won’t, but it can be quite intimidating — and then those who do have tenure, there can be an inclination towards feeling like you’re somewhat insulated from the threats and that they’re maybe not going to touch you, or perhaps you don’t really have an investment in showing solidarity. Now, that is really not the case with every academic — and, again, we’re sort of broad strokes here — but there are an awful lot of academics, like Roberta acknowledged, who are kind of elitist assholes that don’t really care what happens to the rest of us because they think they’re in a fine position; they’ve got their named chair, they’ve got their books out, they’re going to jet around to conferences and get paid gigs and this, that, and the other, regardless of what happens, and the rest of us can go stuff it. Nevertheless, finding a way to get the different layers of workers on the university campus — the non-academic staff, the academic staff (both permanent and adjunct), graduate students, undergraduate students, all of those people — working together, that’s the way we’re going to do it. We’re going to have to cobble together these solidarities across a lot of barriers, but I think — as the conversation is showing — outside of the boards and the presidents, none of these are inherently structural problems; they’re more problems of organization and solidarity.

Roberta: Well, and I think, also, we have to mention that this is part of a broader public sector fight, and that there’s going to have to be alliances built between institutions of higher education — and the individuals who work at them — and these other public sectors that are also facing the same agenda.

Kate: There’s a couple things I want to mention here. One is one of the structural impediments that does exist in academic staff association. And this actually exists in a lot of unions, which is basically two-tiered contracts, but the way it exists among faculty is: you have tenured faculty, who see themselves, correctly, as less individually vulnerable, as compared to precariously-employed contract faculty. A dear friend of mine teaches at Saint, and he was telling that once, in a union meeting, he was literally being told, “Don’t worry, they’re going to lay off the people on contract first,” and he was sitting there in that meeting, as a member of their union, as someone who taught on contract. So there’s this real issue with tiers even within these organizations that represent people. And the other thing I wanted to say was to Patrick’s point about building solidarity between all workers on university campuses, is that: this was always one of, and continues to be one of, my absolute favourite things about organizing on university campuses — and Roberta mentioned the non-academic staff association at the University of Calgary — is, to me, it was always really remarkable to have people who were well-paid, who had advanced degrees, who maybe worked as researchers or librarians, being together in the same union and the same meetings as tradespeople and admin staff and groundskeepers. And seeing all of these people identifying one another as members of the same struggle and as members of the same union and as people who had to have each others’ backs was a really enriching and educational experience when I was a part of that. And I think encouraging that type of solidarity across professions and across income levels and across types of work is really important in all organizing, but you really, really do see that in the university.

Marc: So, I think it’s really important to be aware of all of the structural issues and impediments to organizing that we need to get over with respect to academic staff associations in the province, and I think we have to remember that faculty associations will need a lot of help organizing. I think they should recognize this need, and I think they should actually look to bring in organizers to assist them. Generally speaking, they have been depoliticized through the statutory regimes that have been imposed on them — in fact, creating them as faculty associations in the first place. So, for years, your listeners should understand that faculty associations have been imposed as statutory bargaining agents and that they went immediately to compulsory binding arbitration in the case of an impasse. That led faculty associations to pursue some, essentially, heavily rights-based legalistic strategies without ever really having to organize their members and build solidarity for direct action in the workplace. So there’s a lot of work that needs to be done and, with the government moving so aggressively to transform PSE, we’re already behind them, and it’s going to be difficult to catch up. We have to do this yesterday.

Kate: And one thing I wanted to add to your point, Marc, and to what I was saying earlier, is that part of building solidarity is not only sometimes what I feel like people hear when we say that word, which is a kind of benevolent solidarity you extend to people in your workplace who have it worse than you, but also a sense of solidarity that encompasses everyone, including people in your workplace whose working conditions might be better, whose wages might be higher, and who might enjoy protections at their job that you don’t. And one thing I was really surprised about whenever I’d done organizing on university campuses is the relative ease at which people were able to extend solidarity — not only to people they felt were objectively in a much better, or in a much more privileged, position. So I think making sure that, when we talk about solidarity, we’re making sure it means everyone on a university campus, even tenured academics who make six figures a year, because, ultimately, we are going to need the strength of everyone when it comes to winning this fight against this particular government. And that brings us to one of the last things I think we should talk about here, which is: what should you do if you are a student, if you a non-academic staff member, if you’re a member of the community, or if you’re an academic worker? What is it that you should be doing right now about these attacks on post-secondary in Alberta?

Marc: I think if you’re a rank-and-file member of an academic staff association or any campus union, or even a student association, and you’re concerned about these issues, I think you need to go to a meeting or approach your leadership and ask what’s being done to ready a fighting union and to ask what’s being done to organize the members of your union to build coalitions on campus, to build alliances with the broader labour movement. Faculty have, too often, not seen themselves as part of the labour movement, but they can’t expect others to step up for the things they value if they’re not going to reciprocate, so ask your union what they are doing to organize members aggressively. And I do think we need a certain amount of engagement with the public on this since this is the public’s post-secondary system. I’m not talking about government-facing lobbying work or advocacy that’s done without any power to back it, but I think the public needs to be engaged by academics and others to know what’s going on.

Roberta: Also, we want to mention that AUPE currently has a post-secondary sector survey out for students, faculty, and workers as part of their Save Advanced Education campaign, and we have a link to that in the shownotes for this episode, so please take that survey. And I guess the point we want to make here, in this episode, is that we need everybody to get involved to save our sector. We have one of the most enviable education sectors in the entire world, and we’re in the process of destroying it, and the only way to save it is to build coalitions and alliances across post-secondary education and across the labour movement and with support from the public. And it’s really important to think for the future, about what we want our society to look like and what role higher education will play in that, and to not allow the narrative of the UCP and their focus on job creation and utilitarian education to destroy this fantastic education system that we have.

Kate: And, if you are a student or a member of any kind of association, when we say “get involved,” I want to be extremely clear about what I mean here — what you should do, if you are one of those people and you are listening to this podcast, is you should email (or call, if you have the person’s number) whatever is the local level of the person who represents you — so this might be the head of your faculty association or of your student association or a local chair in your union or something like that — you should email them or call them, and you should ask, “What are we doing to get strike-ready, to be able to go on strike against this government?” And you should make it very clear to them that you expect the resources that you and your coworkers pool together, as members of a student association or a faculty association of a trade union, to be going towards strike prep. And if any of those institutions have communications or organizing departments, you should pose the exact same question, in email or phone call, to those people as well. And if they don’t have resources they can direct you towards, you should get other people you know to start asking the same question. And one last axe I have to grind here — because I know there are some people in the labour movement who listen to this podcast — I strongly, strongly believe that the post-secondary sector needs to move towards sectoral bargaining. What sectoral bargaining is is when everyone involved in a sector bargains at the same time and, ideally, together in one collective agreement. Now, that latter part might not be technically possible, but by bargaining at the same time, you give yourself a lot more leverage. So imagine if, instead of the staff at some rural post-secondary institution going on strike and it’s just the non-academic staff, imagine it’s not only them, but it’s non-academic staff at every other post-secondary institution in Alberta, plus faculty, plus — if they ever get their shit together — students. All of a sudden, you would have a lot more leverage. So the communication and the collaboration that is needed to move towards sectoral bargaining should absolutely be a long-term plan for any association or organization involved in the post-secondary sector. Sectoral bargainin. Google it.


Kate: Marc — thank you so much for joining us here on this episode of The Alberta Advantage. If people want to find out more about your work, where should they go to do so?

Marc: I think there’s a lot of good discussion happening on the Alberta Friends of Post-Secondary Education Facebook group, but I certainly encourage people to check out the resources of the Canadian Association of University Teacher — that’s at

Kate: I would also really recommend, if you are interested in post-secondary in particular, reading the blog posts of the Athabasca University Faculty Association. You can find them at And why I really recommend these is the AUFA is extremely open about the tactics that they are using — what’s working, what isn’t, and how they are building a strong fighting union among faculty at a university in rural Northern Alberta, which is maybe not a place you would expect to be super union-strong, and it’s really interesting to read and to see the tactics that they’ve engaged in and the methods that they’ve used to build a strong union. So I really recommend that as a resource.

Marc: I agree, by the way, they’re great.

Kate: On behalf of everyone here on Team Advantage, take care out there — hope you are all keeping up the good fight out there in Hellberta. Take care, and have a good one. Bye, folks!

All: Bye!

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