Canadian university cost-cutting strategies

University of Alberta Convocation Hall (Wikimedia commons)

University of Alberta Convocation Hall (Wikimedia commons)

Having just investigated some of the university cost-cutting measures south of our border in my blog article US Universities in recession: Furloughs and program closures,  I decided to collect some information about the cost cutting measures Canadian universities have been proposing or announcing in the past 2 months.

Wilfrid Laurier university has announced that they will cut their budget by $31M or 16% over the next 3 years (The Star, January 8, 2009) , and will consider these measures (Wilfrid Laurier Financial Resources, Jan. 8, 2009) —

  • Changes in the assumptions around enrolment growth
  • Pension plan redesign
  • Benefit cost containment
  • Unpaid university shutdown for a one-week period
  • Monetization of assets (i.e. selling university assets to raise short-term cash)
  • Contracting out of select services
  • Salary freezes and/or rollbacks
  • Discretionary travel restrictions
  • Suspension of sinking fund payments
  • Modification of carry forward policy
  • Early exit incentives
  • Alternative work arrangements
  • Reduction or restructuring of positions and/or programs
  • Reduction in service levels
  • Curriculum and/or program revisions

In other universities in Ontario there are similar drastic budget cuts.  However, other than Wilfrid Laurier, none of the other Canadian University budget news articles I discovered mentioned furloughs, energy savings, or the closure of programs, measures which seem to be occurring in the United States.

In November 2008, Queen’s University announced their similar budget cut of 15% over 3 years (The Journal, Queen’s University)   The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Queen’s is handling the budget cuts in some innovative ways.  Creating a “Progress Through the Ranks” tax on departments will “compensate for the effects of the retirement of high-salary faculty members and the hiring of new faculty members at lower salaries.”  The History department is surveying students about eliminating small first year seminarscurrently taught by senior faculty members.  Class sizes will need to increase, and spending on technology (for example, media editing equipment for the Film and Media program) will decrease.   With reduced budgets for teaching assistance, teachers will spend more time marking and less time on research.  (The Journal, Queen’s University, January 23, 2009)

The University of Western Ontario has reduced all faculties by 5.5% in each of the next two years (The Gazette, January 16, 2009), hiring restrictions, and possible layoffs.  But apparently a halt of construction projects is not being considered.

At the University of Guelph, president Summerlee discussed cutting programs (The Ontarion, University of Guelph’s independent student newspaper, January 29, 2009).  He stated twice at a recent meeting that “Eighty percent of students are in 20 per cent of our offerings,”  and suggested putting more into the more popular majors.

Laurentian University announced a budget shortfall of twice the expected size.  President Bourgeois stated “Instead of a $2.4-million deficit, we are now estimating close to a $5.3-million deficit.”   Job cuts and program cuts are expected, though it is hoped that increased student enrollment and higher tuition will help the financial situation.  (Sudbury Star, January 30, 2009)

In the west, Taylor University College (Edmonton, Alberta),  in the midst of discussions regarding its affiliation with the University of Alberta, received news that this plan could not be supported in the university or provincial budget.  As a result, the institution has decided to close the University College branch but keep its Seminary.  (Taylor University, Letter to Students, December 18, 2008)

Many other Canadian universities are facing cuts to faculty budgets of approximately 2-3%/year.

Federal budget context

Whatever individual universities decide to do in response to the economic downturn, the newly announced federal budget this January includes a reduction of $87.2-million over three years to the 3 major research granting councils, which will affect universities significantly.  (Globe and Mail, January 28, 2009).

The budget provides a few more mixed blessings:  (Globe and Mail, January 28, 2009)

  • it promised  “$2-billion for colleges and universities to fix their aging buildings,” but requires schools to find matching funds.
  • It promised “$87.5-million for new graduate scholarships” but only for the next 3 years.
  • The budget also includes research funding but only for targeted research areas largely outside of the arts and social sciences — in areas such as the Arctic, health and food safety, space robotic vehicles, and quantum computing, and the “$750-million for the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which funds research infrastructure.”
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One thought on “Canadian university cost-cutting strategies

  1. Pingback: US Universities in recession: furloughs and program closures | edu*rhetor

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