The question of corporate involvement in the Canadian university system was hotly debated in the De Seve Cinema on Nov. 1 as Concordia students went head to head with members of the administration.
“Governments have severely cut funding; universities don’t have the necessary funds,” said Concordia Provost Jack Lightstone. “Generosity, such as corporate funding can’t be relied on [as a sole source of funding].”
The panel discussion was organized by Montreal Matters; a partnership between the university, CBC radio and television and Hour magazine.
One important issue that arose throughout the course of the debate was the fact that corporate funding to education might actually decrease the quality and dictate the direction the educational system takes.
But what would happen to the cost of a quality education if it weren’t for corporate generosity?
“Corporate donors do stuff out of self interest,” CSU VP Communications Yves Engler said. He added this would not contribute to the overall social good, which he suggested is the mission of universities.
Rob Green, a researcher for the Canadian Federation of Students Quebec branch shared a similar opinion. He said the private sector has their eye on the research market and that the “manufactured crisis” of educational funding is what makes universities so vulnerable to the problem of corporate influence.
He also pointed out a possible pitfall of a privatized educational system: “Where is the public to turn for public research [as opposed to privately influenced] when they traditionally turned to universities?” he said. “People don’t understand the gravity of it.”
The discussion was narrowed down to Concordia University in particular as David Peranz, a CSU researcher, commented on the moratorium on events and displays related to the Middle East conflict after the Sept. 9 protests against a scheduled appearance by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He suggested the conflict on campus would scare off corporate sponsors, and concluded that the administration put the bans in place to keep corporate support intact.
In contrast, Lightstone argued there is no danger of corporate dependence in the university system; he said that public money alone could almost adequately fund the educational system.
Lightstone was put on the spot when talk turned to e.concordia.com, a for-profit E-learning company owned by the Concordia University Foundation. He was questioned about its significance as a corporation and said that as e.Concordia is federally incorporated, it does not influence the quality or direction of education.
Lightstone also mentioned that one criteria for grant eligibility was to have a corporate partner. “This doesn’t mean that the partner directs the research,” he said.
So is education becoming a commodity to be bought in or out of? Or are corporations truly interested in the greater good of society and are thus showing their continued support through corporate funding of education? And who should bear the costs of education? These were some of the questions that left participants and listeners wondering.
Many seemed to agree with Yves Engler that the state should be the primary provider of funding to education. “No Canadian should be turned away [from education] due to cost,” he said.