Top Ten

February 15, 2012

Canadian universities' pension deficits rise to $3.2 billion

In a commentary published earlier this week, DBRS Inc., a Toronto-based credit rating agency, weighs in on the growing pension shortfalls at Canadian universities, 13 of which have borrowed debt capital in the public markets. Over the period 2008-09 to 2010-11, "total aggregate unfunded pension liabilities for DBRS-rated universities ballooned from approximately $680-million to $3.2-billion." DBRS broke down the unfunded liability by institution on a full-time equivalent student basis. The 3 largest are the University of Toronto ($20,906), Queen's University ($16,360), and the University of Guelph ($10,687). By contrast, Brock University, Simon Fraser University, and the University of Ottawa have the lowest shortfalls. DBRS notes that some institutions have already taken measures to improve the situation. For example, McMaster University has increased employee contributions and retirement dates, as well as closed defined benefit plans to new entrants of certain employee groups. uToronto has made a $150-million lump sum payment and plans to make a second similar payment by June 2014 into its pension plan. Financial Post

Ryerson launches $200-million fundraising campaign

Ryerson University announced Wednesday the launch of "Make Your Mark," the institution's largest fundraising initiative to date. Funds raised in the $200-million campaign will support teaching, innovation, and research ($45 million); academic programs, library, and technology ($40 million); student awards, bursaries, and scholarships ($55 million); and capital projects, such as the Peter Gilgan Athletic Centre, the Ryerson Image Centre, the Student Learning Centre, and the upcoming Sciences building ($60 million). Ryerson has raised $117 million so far. Ryerson News | Make Your Mark

Ontario's PSE system needs to become more efficient, says report

To meet the challenges of increasing demand for PSE in the midst of constrained funding, Ontario's higher education system will need to become even more efficient, states the report from the Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Services. The commission outlines 30 recommendations related to PSE, calling on the province to contain government funding and institutional expenses; use differentiation to improve PSE quality and achieve financial sustainability; encourage and reward quality; revise research funding structures; maintain the current overall cap on tuition fee increases, but simplify the framework; re-evaluate student financial assistance; and generate cost efficiencies through measures such as integrating administrative and back-office functions. With respect to financial assistance, the report recommends Ontario explore phasing out provincial tuition and education tax credits to invest in upfront grants. The commission urges government and PSE institutions to measure learning outcomes, as well as tie outcome quality indicators to funding as part of the mandate agreement with institutions. The report recommends ceasing funding for international marketing of Ontario universities and integrating it into existing trade mission activities. Read the report

Quebec students initiate unlimited strike

Approximately 11,000 university students in Quebec launched an unlimited strike Tuesday to protest impending tuition fee increases. The number of striking students is expected to double by Monday, and could rise from there as many more student groups hold strike votes over the coming weeks. So far, the striking students are mainly from the Université du Québec à Montréal, and approximately 1,000 from Université Laval. Students from the Université de Montréal, CÉGEP de St. Laurent, and CÉGEP du Vieux Montréal are set to begin an unlimited strike next week. Concordia University students are to vote early next month, while McGill University students have not yet planned a strike vote. At a news conference Tuesday, striking students said they were willing to lose a semester if necessary to stop the planned tuition fee increases. To stop the strike, the students said, the Quebec government must give up its plan to raise tuition fees by $325 annually for 5 years. The last major student strike in Quebec was in 2005, when as many as 200,000 CÉGEP and university students boycotted classes for up to 5 weeks to protest cuts of $103 million to bursaries. The situation is different today, with universities reporting that they are underfunded by $620 million compared to other Canadian universities. Montreal Gazette | CBC

Colleges Ontario outlines priorities for province's upcoming budget

In its pre-budget submission, Colleges Ontario says the provincial government must send a strong signal in its 2012 budget about the next steps to be taken to more effectively advance the transfer of completed credits when a PSE student transfers to another institution. The organization says Ontario must ensure the new spaces provided by the proposed new undergraduate campuses are directly tied to a transformation of PSE that is more career-specific. To that end, the submission states, the province -- through its RFP process -- must ensure that any proposal considered involve a college and a university in a new kind of partnership that has at its core a culture of credit transfer and credential recognition. Colleges Ontario says the government can achieve savings through a realignment of the apprenticeship system by providing colleges with greater responsibility for the management and delivery of apprenticeship training. The submission states that colleges' funding needs for 2012-13 include $51 million for operating grants, $2 million for applied research, $61 million for deferred maintenance, and $20 million for instructional equipment. Pre-Budget Submission

CBU to house wind farm

Nova Scotia's energy ministry has approved an application by Cape Breton University's Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment to operate a wind farm. The project supports the centre's goal to find advanced and sustainable solutions for energy and environmental issues through research, innovation, and partnerships. To be located directly across from the university, the 5.4 MW CBU Wind Farm will provide the institution with increased resources to pursue its goal of obtaining electrical and heating self-sufficiency. CBU News | Cape Breton Post

5 Canadian universities chosen to lead health education reform

The University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, Queen's University, Université Laval, and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine will represent North America as one of 4 global innovation collaboratives chosen to work with the US Institute of Medicine on a project to lead innovation in health education around the world. The Canadian Interprofessional Health Leadership Collaborative will develop curricula that foster collaborative leadership skills. The other collaboratives in India, South Africa, and Uganda will undertake related projects. UBC News Release | uToronto News | Queen's News Centre

uWindsor launches 5-year strategic research plan

The University of Windsor's senate has approved a new strategic research plan that will extend over a 5-year period ending in December 2016. The document states that uWindsor "will act to develop its research culture and increase the level of its research intensity while further integrating research as part of the student's learning experience." The document outlines 5 main objectives: build on established research strengths and pursue new strategic opportunities; attract, develop, and retain highly qualified faculty, students, post-doctoral fellows, and supporting staff; foster excellence, collaboration, and the integration of research with education and with societal needs; identify, strengthen, and prioritize uWindsor's existing and emerging areas of research excellence on an evolving basis; and sustain and further develop an infrastructure that supports the institution's strategic research and creative activities. uWindsor Daily News | Strategic Research Plan

TRU Open Learning produces recruitment video

Thompson Rivers University's Open Learning division (TRU-OL) has released a paper-cut animation recruitment video that showcases the stories of 3 types of TRU-OL students: a course-taker looking to add to their credential at another institution; a professional looking to advance their career by using prior learning assessment and recognition toward a PSE credential; and a full-time worker looking to gain a credential that will allow them to upgrade to the career of their dreams. The video highlights the benefits and options available through TRU-OL. A TRU-OL official says the video "speaks to who we are at TRU-OL: innovative, open, flexible, accessible and ready to serve the needs of all learners at any time. Open Learning is unique in that it operates under an 'open' philosophy that means anyone, anywhere can access quality education on their own terms." Open Standard (page 16 of PDF) | Watch the video

QS ranks world's best student cities

Yesterday QS released its first-ever Best Student Cities ranking, in which Paris placed first among 50 international cities. Based on a dozen criteria, the ranking takes into account the quality and number of internationally ranked universities, alongside factors such as affordability, quality of living, and the reputation of local universities among employers. The Canadian cities to make the list are Montreal (10), Toronto (26), and Vancouver (31). Montreal has one of the highest scores for quality of living, alongside a favourable student mix and rankings score. QS News Release | QS Best Student Cities in the World 2012