Eduvation Blog

Skint Budgets in Canada and Australia

Good morning!

This morning, I’m looking forward to delivering a keynote at the League for Innovation in the Community College’s Virtual Innovations Conference, focused on some of the lasting positive impacts of the COVID19 pandemic on higher ed. (I’ll try to share some of those “upsides” with you sometime.)

But today, we continue with our look at the financial “downsides” of the pandemic, after Monday’s review of the situation at Laurentian, and yesterday’s look at the US situation. Today, let’s look at Australia and (of course) Canada.

But first, there’s been a significant upswing in campus outbreaks lately…



COVID on Campus

Since Tuesday, there have been 16 more cases of COVID19 reported by CdnPSEs. The rising number of outbreaks in the past week reflects the rise in cases across Canada, and may soon force provinces to reconsider their reopening plans. (See my master spreadsheet for a running tally of >1500 cases in CdnPSE since Sept 2020.)


Sherbrooke police issued 97 tickets last week for illegal gatherings and non-compliance with the curfew. 35 were issued to Bishop’s U students (who are on Reading Week now).  TVA News


McMaster U reported 2 more confirmed, unrelated cases on campus yesterday. Both were international students who tested positive while already quarantining in residence after arriving in late February.  Mac


Peterborough’s Severn Court student residences is now reporting 34 confirmed cases (7 more than yesterday) including 3 variants of concern. (29 cases are Fleming College students, and 4 Trent Ustudents.) Fleming has suspended all in-person classes for 14 days. All the cases have been traced to social gatherings on Feb 20, and charges may be laid against those who hosted.  Global


Western U reported another outbreak in residence last night: 7 students living in Essex Hall tested positive, and are in isolation outside the residence, along with some close contacts. Other students living on the 2 floors are isolating in place. (Since September, this is the 4th outbreak at a Western residence, and at least 100 cases have been reported in the UWO community.)  CBC  |  Western



Layoffs in Australia

While the legislative, financial, and immigration context vary by jurisdiction, Australian higher ed is facing many pressures similar to Canadian and American institutions, with similar impacts on employees…


Australian HE Decimated

Back in October, uMelbourne research found that Australian universities had lost $3.8B in revenue due to the COVID19 pandemic, and cut 5,600 FTE jobs – with 17,500 casual and research positions also predicted to go. The total impact would be 9.5% of the sector’s workforce (almost literally the definition of “decimation”). uMelbourne was expected to lose $1B in revenue in 2020-22, Swinburne $152M, RMIT $300M in 2020-21, Deakin up to $300M, and Victoria U $70M. La Trobe U forecast a long-term loss of up to $520M, and Monash U ~$350M in 2020 alone. All were planning to discontinue programs and degrees – 103 at Monash alone.  Sydney Morning Herald


Voluntary Redundancies

In September, U Sydney reported a surplus “relative to [its] revised budget” for 2020, but with declining international enrolment in 2021 it nonetheless would propose a voluntary redundancy round, in addition to a freeze on hiring, infrastructure and equipment investments, and restrictions on travel and other expenses.  Campus Morning Mail


Macquarie U announced Saturday it will cut 61-82 academic jobs to save $25M. Macquarie cut 300 jobs last year, and saved $6M through a second round of voluntary redundancies – not including the “hidden workforce” of casual and contract employees, “hundreds of whom have not been re-engaged in 2021.”  Sydney Morning Herald


“Universities are crucial to the response and recovery from COVID, yet the federal government seems intent on starving them of funding. Now, more than ever, we need universities to work on new vaccines and teach the next generation of nurses, doctors, pandemic specialists and scientists.”Nikki Balnave, President, Macquarie U NTEU



uMelbourne may have posted an $8M surplus last year (“effectively a ‘break-even’ result”), but it is projecting another $200M decline in revenue for 2021, due to closed borders and a “pipeline problem” for several years. It therefore needs to cut $252M more in 2021, on top of $360M in cuts made in 2020. Total redundancies are likely to be less than 450, with about half being voluntary.  The Guardian


“It is an extremely wealthy institution but they continue to cry poor. It is like bumping into a millionaire on the street, and they say ‘You’ve got to shout me a coffee, I’ve got no money’. You’ve got it, it’s just not in your pocket.”Steve Adams, President, uMelbourne NTEU



CdnPSE & Budgets

As Canadian governments approach annual budget season, pre-budget submissions have proliferated, budget cuts have been announced, and institutions have scrambled to respond…


Dalhousie U has released a draft 2021-2 budget, including a proposed 3% tuition increase, for the third year in a row. Students have protested throughout the pandemic that “the quality of our education, for what we’re paying for, has decreased quite a bit.” Global


Manitoba’s Skills, Talent and Knowledge Strategy emphasizes access, completion, and work-integrated learning – but also indicates that the province will implement performance-based funding for PSE “to promote positive outcomes for students and alignment with industry needs.” As in other provinces, the faculty associations warn there is no evidence that PBF is effective at improving student success or outcomes, but only at restricting access and increasing admissions selectivity.  Global


New Brunswick universities have requested an additional $10.6M in emergency funding to offset COVID19-related shortfalls, but the minister of PSET is “not in a position today to say.” Any additional funds would come “with difficult conversations” about PSE funding generally, which totals $230M for the 4 universities.  CBC


Ontario 20 public universities calculate they have lost $1B over the past year, largely from ancillary revenues, and while they have made cuts to recoup half that amount, they are seeking $500M in one-time emergency funding from the province. The MCU has already provided $25M in emergency funding, and $50M through its Virtual Learning strategy. Moody’s has lowered its expectations for emergency support or financial oversight of Ontario universities.  Globe & Mail


Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe said yesterday that his government’s plan to return the province to a balanced budget “in the next number of years” will be detailed in its budget next month. Moe’s election goal was to eliminate the $2B deficit by 2024. “We’re going to support the services that the people of this province expect and we’re going to support the full return of jobs in the economic recovery of Saskatchewan communities.”  Globe & Mail


uSaskatchewan has asked the province to maintain its funding for 2021-2, and for permission to hike tuition 4% for all students. UofS is “realizing significant financial consequences as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” and forecasts its operating fund deficit will grow by $20M a year based on current assumptions, on annual revenues of $1B. Since May 2020, UofS has laid off ~95 employees permanently, and ~300 temporarily. The SK budget is expected Apr 6.  Saskatoon Star-Phoenix



Budget Cuts in Alberta

There’s enough going on in Alberta to warrant giving it a section to itself. Jason Kenney’s government is slashing PSE funding, and in particular funding to universities, as enthusiastically as any republican state governor south of the border…


Alberta’s oil revenues are evaporating, pushing the provincial budget into unprecedented deficits ($18B this year), but Jason Kenney’s UCP government has long been pushing PSE to find alternative revenue streams. On Thursday, the province released a new budget which cuts PSE funding by a further $135M* – and startlingly, $60M of it comes straight from uAlberta, atop severe cuts in each of the past 2 years. uCalgary’s funding will be cut $25M. Since 2019, the UCP has cut PSE funding 11.8%.  Globe & Mail


“We’re challenging the university administrators to learn from high-quality public universities in the rest of Canada about how to operate more efficiently, because otherwise we’re going to have to raise your taxes, to pay for that, and that would kill jobs at the worst possible time.”Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta


* As Alex Usher points out, it’s unclear whether the cut to Alberta PSE in this budget is $126M, $135M, or $175M – but it’s another 6-8% on top of 10% cut in the past 2 years. PSE funding for 2021-2 will be ~$500M (or 20.5%) less than 2018-19, factoring in inflation.


Alberta’s Budget 2021 plans for 750 FTE jobs to be eliminated at the province’s PSEs, largely through attrition. “For a government keen on supposed jobs creation, they’re certainly good at getting rid of them,” quips uCalgary Student Union president Frank Finley. Alberta now spends 4x as much on health ($21.4B) as on PSE ($5B). The 7% cap on tuition increases remains in place until 2022-3, but the budget projects a +4.4% increase in tuition revenue in 2023-4. Performance-based funding will commence this fall. Alberta has announced $191M in capital funding for PSE over the next 3 years, $50M of it to Mount Royal U in Calgary.  Calgary Herald


The Council of PSE Presidents of Alberta, not surprisingly, published a reaction that warns the cuts will “create challenges” for PSE in the province, and transfer “more financial responsibility onto the backs of students.” The cuts will likely require further layoffs, and decreased programming. Institutions have grappled with decreased international enrolment and ancillary revenues, increased costs, and the government has provided no COVID19 funding. “If the province is not able to provide stable funding, it needs to remove restrictions preventing institutions from managing their current revenue sources, programming, facilities and lands.”  Education News Canada


uAlberta has lost $170M in annual provincial funding over the past 2.5 years, and has already undertaken “a bold program of reform larger in scale than anything in the history of Canadian universities.” UofA is cutting admin costs by $95M, grouping 13 faculties into 3 colleges to create economies of scale, changing procurement processes and space utilization to save another $32M. But with Alberta’s 2021 budget, UofA is bearing 50% of the cuts to PSE in the province, although they educate just 25% of the students. “To require the University of Alberta to shoulder almost one-half of the required provincial savings is unreasonable,” says president Bill Flanagan. UofA is pushing the province to “untie the university’s hands” when it comes to growing revenues (potentially increasing tuition, I suspect).  The Quad


“Once COVID has passed, Alberta will need to restart the economy and, together, we must focus on building the future. As it has for over the last century, the University of Alberta will continue to play a central role in advancing innovation, entrepreneurship and knowledge translation to the benefit of all Albertans.”Bill Flanagan, President, uAlberta


uCalgary likewise has lost 18% of its operating budget since 2019, bringing it to a lower level than it was in 2011, when it had 4,300 fewer students. UofC has laid off staff, imposed wage freezes and increased tuition already – and the UC Students’ Union expects tuition fees to rise another 22.5% as a result of the new provincial budget, “paying a lot more and getting far less.”  CTV


“If students were to receive a better, higher quality education by paying more that would be easier to swallow, but the university is being forced to cut staff in addition to raising tuition. Online learning also doesn’t provide the same campus experience. In short, thanks to these continued cuts students are paying a lot more and getting far less.”Frank Finley, uCalgary Student Union president



MacEwan U president Annette Trimbee is naturally pleased that her institution’s operating grant was not reduced for 2021-2, “and we received an increase in our Infrastructure Maintenance Grant.” Over the past 2 years, MacEwan has managed a 10.1% reduction. “The fact that we received no reduction in our grant demonstrates that the Alberta Government acknowledges everything we have done to contribute to fiscal restraint over the last two years and recognizes MacEwan’s important role in economic recovery.”  MacEwan




I’m sure we all know avid readers who have used the pandemic to read stacks of books – but we also know that subscriptions to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ have been growing exponentially during a year of staying at home. So, perhaps it was inevitable that a university would make the connection…


What Have You Been Watching?

Wilfrid Laurier U surveyed its students on Instagram to identify their viewing habits, in order to recommend courses they might like this spring or fall. (They created a dedicated webpage as well as a highlight reel on Instagram.) Viewers of The Queen’s Gambit might like to pick up some Russian history, philosophy or game theory, while House of Cards fans might prefer politics courses like “The Dysfunction of the American Political Process.” There’s also communications for Gossip Girl fans, British history for bingers of The Crown, labour studies or HR for fans of The Office, journalism for Gilmore Girls viewers, criminology if Twin Peaks is your thing, or perhaps courses in law for fans of Suits. “We suggest you get a law degree before practicing law.” (Good advice, that.)  WLU



As always, thanks for reading! And while I’ve got absolutely no shortage of topics for future issues, let me know if there’s something you would particularly like me to tackle!

Be safe and stay well,


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