Viewpoint: Financial hassle at Queen’s College a symptom of broader greater-education disaster

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Men and women stroll past a Queen’s College sign at the corner of Union St. and College Ave. on the university’s campus in Kingston, Ont., on Jan. 20, 2021.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ken Coates is a distinguished fellow and director of Indigenous affairs at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and a professor of Indigenous governance at Yukon College.

Queen’s University is in a tizzy and a fiscal mess. The institution faces a significant deficit and is now coping with inner turmoil around the administration’s techniques for financial stabilization.

To insert fuel to the fireplace: The federal government’s reduction in global student visas and do the job permits has removed Ontario’s postsecondary fiscal basic safety valve. To some observers, the Queen’s boat is sinking, and the federal government has thrown the only dependable bailing bucket overboard.

This is a shame. Queen’s is a great institution, with a stellar popularity. Even with getting considered as a occasion faculty by some learners, it is one particular of the handful of Canadian establishments with a nationwide arrive at, worldwide educational standing and a prolonged-standing dedication to a liberal arts education and learning. It also has a person of the country’s most sought-soon after commerce courses. But now, the destiny of many of its offerings is up in the air – even the university’s remarkably highly regarded community administration method is contemplating suspending admissions.

University finances are complicated and curiously insensitive to fiscal realities. The problems of Queen’s replicate how Ontario universities have confronted a double economical whammy and a single resolution.

The very first dilemma is that expenses are large. Tenure-monitor faculty users have 1st-fee work safety, and the absence of mandatory retirement implies many highly paid out gurus retain doing the job properly soon after 65 decades of age, adding to the currently substantial burden of college salaries.

The second issue is that earnings is low. The provincial authorities has frozen tuition costs – a vote-acquiring exercising of incredibly little effects on access for a lot less wealthy pupils – and delivers the least expensive for every-scholar grants in the region.

The “solution,” which worked for a lot of Ontario postsecondary institutions, was an very aggressive technique to global scholar recruitment, with these large-cost-paying students supplying two-thirds of the tuition earnings in the province. Queen’s dined at that desk less enthusiastically than any other universities, but global service fees nevertheless generated more than 30 per cent of the university’s profits.

Queen’s money disaster is not unique. Laurentian College faced an even bigger plight and endured substantial cutbacks in school positions and applications. Campuses across the place routinely encounter discussions of structural deficits and imminent reductions in school and personnel positions.

Montreal’s McGill and Concordia at this time encounter the government-induced problem of a major raise in tuition and extra steps that make these wonderful universities, based mostly in Canada’s most fascinating metropolis, unappealing to new candidates. The University of Alberta confronted gut-wrenching reductions in funding in the latest yrs, necessitating extremely tough cuts.

At the heart of the challenge is that, for also lengthy, universities have hardly ever produced challenging economical selections effectively or properly. College salaries are locked in, and, as Laurentian discovered, laying off college users is public, controversial and unpleasant. Universities developed packages in excess of decades and, in contrast to colleges and polytechnics, are not able to pivot quickly and reallocate funding from very low-enrolment to higher-need classes. Shutting international languages and incorporating additional seats in business enterprise is a probable long-phrase option, not a shorter-time period deal with.

Most administrations consider non-confrontational approaches, delaying the filling of vacant positions rather than closing departments cancelling small classes as an alternative of shuttering well-liked athletic groups launching crisis fundraising appeals in its place of reorganizing departments cutting down senior administrative salaries symbolically alternatively than getting rid of the university’s equity, range and inclusion business.

Public dialogue of the Queen’s circumstance at present focuses on cutting classes with handful of students. That buys small savings even though robbing the campus of the modest-class ordeals that make establishments like Queen’s desirable to top students. In the 1970s, higher-division classes had been, by design and style, generally little, offering superior-excellent capstone mental experiences. They will soon be long gone. Pricey undergraduate applications and hugely specialized graduate packages could come across them selves on the chopping block.

Universities, and not just Queen’s, should really be aware that there is precious very little urge for food for instant provincial federal government support. The public does not sense the soreness of Queen’s and other general public universities. Practically no 1 is clamouring for highly-priced bailouts. A number of a long time in the past, universities were witnessed as vital to Canada’s economic survival. Now, they are on their individual.

Queen’s and other universities are not able to delay the really hard get the job done. Addressing the fiscal stress of more mature faculty members is critical. So is an assessment of the quite a few solutions and specialized administrative places of work some will have to be slash. Tuition service fees should increase, with money established aside for bursaries for all those unable to pay out. Ancillary expenses – parking, pupil housing, food items companies – will increase, potentially considerably. University buildings need to be utilized additional correctly. The hardest bullet – controversial to the main – requires an assessment of school salaries, just one of the several destinations in which authentic very long-phrase cost savings are probable.

Canadian universities are in issues. Politicians do not make them a superior precedence. College students are piling into educational systems that assure substantial job earnings, leaving the standard tutorial main susceptible. Queen’s University is not the very first to face a critical fiscal crisis. It will not be the last.