Groundwork for Wisconsin-style attacks on Canadian post-secondary education is in place

The Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill had sweeping implications not just for organized labour, but for all public service sectors in the state. Major changes were made to Wisconsin's post-secondary education system, and Canadians should take note: these kinds of cuts have already begun in our universities, and more cuts and privatization could be coming our way.

Many Canadian university executives have embraced the image of an enterprise university, characterized by corporate-style executive leadership. There is a growing consensus among higher education administrators and corporate executives about the role and nature of public universities as market actors best run by market ideas.

This transformation that has, in part, led to the growth of privatization on campuses, which is the first step toward the changes Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has just pushed through in Madison, Wisconsin.

Governor Walker's agenda shows what the future could be if we aren't successful in pushing back on corporatization and privatization on our campuses and communities.

Context for cuts to post-secondary education

Canadian universities have been facing cuts for some time.

Ironically it is the big four audit and consultancy firms that have helped define the crisis and that are now advising universities on how to get out of the crisis. Several universities and colleges across Canada have begun implementing resource optimization-a review process designed by these firms to cut costs of administrative and academic support services and to encourage privatization.

The world's corporations are using the economic meltdown to veil their attacks on the public sector, including post-secondary education. They, along with conservative think tanks and big audit and consultancy firms, have sown the seeds for the attack on public services and public sector unions.

More information on corporate influences on university campuses can be found here, here and here.

Students and teaching assistant unions at the heart of protest

With dramatic cuts and efforts to privatize post-secondary education, it is no wonder 800 university students marched out of their classes in opposition to Governor Walker's budget.

They understood so clearly the catastrophic implications of the budget and the need for immediate action. They also understood so plainly their common cause they shared with the public sector workers including those on campus.

The University of Wisconsin System (UW) would lose $250 million in state funding under Walker's proposed budget, with half of the cuts absorbed by UW-Madison and half by the other campuses. The UW is one of the largest systems of public higher education in the United States, serving almost 182,000 students each year and employing more than 32,000 faculty and staff statewide. Part of the budget plan is to separate Madison campus from the rest of the UW System.

The restructuring that the bill calls for, like removing the Madison campus from the UW System, studying a similar move for the Milwaukee campus, and moving all of the universities to more of a market model is de facto privatization. Some other the other impacts of the bill on post-secondary education include:

  • Phasing-out a scholarship program aimed at low-income and first-generational students
  • Eliminating in-state tuition rates for undocumented persons at UW-Madison
  • Authorizing all four-year campuses to create a charter school

With the groundwork for similar cuts already in place in Canada, thanks to the steady increase in corporate involvement on university campuses, students and union members on Canadian campuses should take note. These attacks on post-secondary education have serious implications for the quality, affordability and accessibility of our system. It's becoming increasingly important to fight against privatization on our campuses.

Though the situation in Wisconsin may be troubling to many, the protests also point the way to incredible potential for powerful alliances between students, community activists, union members and their unions. The power of all these groups working together to fight privatization and corporatization is pivotal to the fight for quality and accessible public services.

For more on the situation in Madison:

Check out CUPE's previous articles on privatization on university campuses:, Thurs Mar 17 2011

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