Looking ahead

- November 30, 2006

Rebalancing enrolment at Dalhousie between high cost programs, where the majority of students are now, and lower cost programs is necessary for the long term financial well being of the university, the Board of Governors heard this week.

The long term financial planning committee struck by the board more than a year ago tabled its report and 41 recommendations. While the overall financial picture at Dalhousie has improved significantly in that past 15 years, committee chair Jim Spatz, noted that Dalhousie operates at a distinct financial disadvantage compared to other national institutions with similar academic programming, and compared to schools in the Atlantic region, most of which donÕt offer much in the way of Òhigh cost” academic programs.

Dalhousie is the smallest of CanadaÕs medical-doctoral universities, all of which offer a broad array of very expensive professional and graduate degrees. Among those schools, Dalhousie has far and away the highest concentration of students in high cost, graduate, medical, professional and science programs. In addition, Dalhousie has the lowest student-to-faculty ratio in Canada at 14:1.

University president Tom Traves told the board that despite those facts, Dalhousie lives with the local and regional misperception that because it is the biggest school in the Maritimes, it has the biggest classes, Ò…when the reality is the opposite. Most of the other schools in this region have a student-faculty ratio at least twice that of Dalhousie.”

In the majority of courses, Dalhousie would have the smallest class sizes in the region. Dalhousie also allocates a larger share of its operating budget to academic salaries than the national average, and almost doubles the national average in terms of student assistance as a percentage of its budget. All of these circumstances leave the university in a vulnerable financial position, the committee concluded.

Dr. Traves indicated that the university is totally committed to a program of financial stability, to maintaining and enhancing the quality of its academic programs and to its tradition of accessibility to able students, regardless of their economic circumstances. In Nova Scotia, where universities receive the lowest per student government grants in the country, Dr. Traves acknowledged that DalhousieÕs is a difficult balancing act.

The report addresses other financial risks, notably, the universityÕs $192 million deferred maintenance problem, and escalating university contributions to employee pensions. The universityÕs pension contribution jumped from $7 to $17 million in the past five years.

The report is now available from the Reports page of the Board of Governors website. The Board will consider the recommendations at its February meeting.


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