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CAUT Bulletin Archives

June 2000

Private Universities Set a Dangerous Substandard

There is plenty of room to criticize the Ontario government's plan to allow private universities in the province. Most of the criticisms being made, however, strike me as being wide of the mark.

Both supporters and opponents of private universities assume that new private universities will be elite institutions which will attract the kind of faculty and students that Harvard and Yale attract now -- and will thus be able to charge fees on the same scale. Opponents claim that the result will be two-tiered education, with the rich getting a better product at a much higher cost.

I find this scenario hard to take seriously. Harvards and Yales (or Oberlins or Reed Colleges) are not built in a decade, or even half a century. Anyone wishing to compete with either the major universities or the small select liberal arts colleges would have to invest tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure. Unless such investors have a strong ideological agenda, they can find much better places to put their money.

As for students able to pay high fees for a private, "elite" education, why would they not choose an existing "elite" institution with centuries of prestige behind it? The most likely reason I can come up with is that they might not qualify for admission on the basis of their academic records.

There is more danger that new private universities will be substandard than that they will attract the best and the brightest.

Steven Muhlberger
History, Nipissing University