Labour and budget troubles in canadian higher ed

The financial sustainability of the traditional colleges and universities is being called into question. While most of the attention has been on on the US context, and small, private institutions, in particular. But a number of Canadian institutions are facing significant budget deficits. Others are dealing with labour strikes that have roots in financial troubles. Declining enrolment is a factor for many institutions in North America - owing to demographic shifts. Growing operating costs don't help. 

At Higher Ed Management we're initiating a review of financial conditions in Canadian colleges and universities as it pertains to online education, specifically. Here's a sample of institutions that have recently dealt with labour strife, budget deficits, or both. 

 Photo:  CBC News

Photo: CBC News

Ontario College System  

The 2017 report on Ontario colleges, "Fiscal Sustainability of Ontario Colleges", concluded that Ontario 22 colleges will need to cut staff, increase tuition, deliver more education online, and receive more government funds if they are going to weather projected decline in enrolment. 

Report Recommendations

Ontario College Sector - Strike 

Later in 2017, Ontario College's 12,000 teaching staff went on strike for five weeks to contest the growing reliance on part-time and contract work - one of the few times, to our recollection, that full-time staff have taken work-action on behalf of part-time, contingent faculty. Part-time and contract teachers represent 70% of educators in the system. 

    York University - Strike

    One of Canada's largest universities, York University saw contract staff and teaching assistants take strike action over wages and benefits. After six weeks (as of April 03, 2018), the two sides are far apart. More information

    Carleton University - Strike

    A strike by support staff at Carleton University encompasses admissions, administration, IT, some librarians, athletics, and counselling services - is now in its fifth week (as of April 03). The union is aiming to maintain its "defined benefit" pensions (rather than a "contributor-based pension). 

    Memorial University - Budget Deficit

    Memorial University is facing a serious budget deficit due to a confluence of factors: 

    • a declining local population;
    • a policy to maintain its historically low tuition fees;
    • increased operating costs;
    • and a reduced operating budget. (Provincial funds were reduced by 9.1 million for the 2017-2018 year.)

    Athabasca University- Budget Deficit

    An internal memo, written in 2015 by Interim President Scott Mackinnon, sent shock waves through the sector by predicting that the institution will be insolvent in two years.

    A follow-up report in 2016 concluded that “Unless significant changes are made – and soon – AU will face a financial crisis early in 2018”.

    University of Ottawa- Budget Deficit

    The university is predicting an estimated $15M deficit for the fiscal year ending on April 30, 2017. Tuition rates are expected to rise across the board, with international students to see up to 15 per cent increase. The university projected a $20-million deficit for 2017-18.

    The university's departments were charged with filling out an eight-page document outlining how they would achieve a balanced budget, given the proposed cuts. The memo read: 

    “Explain, in bullet point form, what measures you would put in place to reach a balanced budget? What would be the undesirable consequences of these additional measures on your services and for the university? How would you mitigate the effects?”  

    An internal memo sent to the University of Ottawa community included the following summary of actions to be taken to deal with the budget crisis:

    "To balance our budget, we have carefully considered a range of options and following discussions with the deans, the Administration Committee has now decided on a course of action. Please note that those measures only affect operating funds and not research funds:
    • Construction and renovation projects under the building inventory improvement plan (PAPI 1) are suspended, unless required by safety or legal obligations;
    • All discretionary expenses, such as travel, will be restricted;
    • A hiring freeze on all contract or honorarium-based administrative and support staff positions, except in rare cases approved by the vice-president concerned.
    The following three measures will be discussed with the unions concerned:
    • A freeze on external job postings and on external hiring to fill temporary or permanent administrative or support staff positions;
    • No retroactive salary adjustments when positions are evaluated or reclassified;
    • No position reclassifications until further notice, except for previously approved unit reorganisations." Source

    University of Saskatchewan- Budget Deficit

    The University of Saskatchewan approved a $16.7 million deficit budget in mid-2017 in response to a 5.6% ($18m) funding reduction by the province. The approved plan involved reducing the salaries and benefits of 75 senior leaders. 

    "We will have to look at everything we do . . ." 
    Vianne Timmons, President, University of Saskatchewan. Source


    By Keith Christopher Hampson

    Useful Resource

    University Sustainability: Signal Data. Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, 2017



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