Report lays foundation for future of degree granting

The report on expanding degree-granting status in Saskatchewan is out and the U of S president believes it provides a solid basis for addressing the question in the future.

"I don't know what requests the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Immigration has before it now, if any, to grant degrees," said Peter MacKinnon, "but (Alex) Usher's report offers a framework in which to deal with them."

Usher, of Higher Education Strategy Associates in Toronto, was asked by the provincial ministry in February to head up a fact-finding process across Saskatchewan about expanding degree-granting status to in-province post-secondary institutions other than the two universities. His final report, released to the public Aug. 26, states, in part, that permitting non-university institutions the right to offer degrees is considered desirable, "provided that it is accompanied by a rigorous system of quality assessment at the program level." The report also includes a list of recommendations that would allow such an expansion to take place.

The review consisted of four parts: a widely distributed discussion paper; a "learning event" in Saskatoon in April that brought together over 60 people not including ministry staff or outside presenters; the gathering of written submissions; and one-on-one discussions with stakeholders.

MacKinnon described Usher as an able man and a suitable consultant for the project, which included participation by the U of S. He then described the report itself as "enabling, allowing for the possibility that there will be other degree-granting institutions in our province." But for the president, it does not matter how many institutions grant degrees; what is more important is that any expansion of the right to grant degrees is in the best interests of Saskatchewan, that the financial consequences of expansion "should be clear up front," and that "quality remains paramount in post-secondary education policy."

The report, which is now in the hands of the ministry for consideration, outlines changes to degree-granting status across the country and summarizes the feedback collected within Saskatchewan. It recommends the establishment of an independent quality assurance board to review new degree program requests, and that new degree programs at private
institutions not automatically receive provincial funding. (On April 4, the ministry announced the appointment of Brian Gillespie, former president of the British Columbia Institute of Technology and first chair of that province's degree quality assessment board, to develop a quality assurance review process for degree applications in Saskatchewan.)

The report also suggests the provincial acts governing the
U of S, the University of Regina and SIAST be amended, in the case of the two universities to end their current monopoly on awarding degrees and, in the case of SIAST, to allow for the awarding of professionally focused degrees approved by the minister based on the recommendation of the quality assurance board.

It also recommends setting up a competitive process to adjudicate requests for new degree programs from the universities and SIAST with the quality assurance board acting as adjudicator.

Finally, the report suggests the government develop a policy of periodic quality audits for the
U of S and U of R.

MacKinnon said the emphasis on quality assurance in the report should pose no problems for the U of S. "We're perfectly used to the idea of review," he said. "We've had systematic program review for a very long time so I'm comfortable with that."

The complete report can be found on the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Immigration website.

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