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Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Change. Crisis. Coming…to Canada.

If you were shocked by Russia and Qatar’s winning bids to host future World Cups of soccer, then your eyes are have been closed for the past few years. You are missing the huge flashing neon signs declaring dramatic changes around the world. Change in soccer, in power, in finance, and more. As New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote on November 11, 2010, about change and the speed of this global transformation:

“It will come with amazing swiftness. The bond markets are with you until the second they are against you. When the psychology shifts and the fiscal crisis happens, the shock will be grievous: national humiliation, diminished power in the world, drastic cuts and spreading pain.”

And there is plenty of change coming in education, right across all classes and all countries. It would have been hard to imagine a few months ago, that British Royals would be pelted in a protest over tuition fees. But UK universities are in serious crisis. Aside from all the questions about learning systems and outcomes, the most pressing problem is a cash crunch. There are reports that dozens of British universities are on the edge of closing. Higher education, like so much in western societies, can no longer sustain the luxuries of the status quo.

Crisis in Canadian post-secondary education is coming as well. The current fiscal realities at Canadian universities are not sustainable. Take a look at the publicly available salaries of university faculty. With so many making well over $100k per year, ask how shrinking budgets can meet payrolls. All those guaranteed pensions for professors and their spouses – how will they be paid out over the next several decades ? Are universities going to be able to meet their pension commitments by growing their funds with minuscule interest rates ? Are they going to return to jeopardizing pension funds on tenuous equity markets ? Are governments going to let tuition fees skyrocket to pay the bills ? In Canada, it will be political suicide to ask a middle class populace to further fund the perceived largesse of universities.

It’s why we are now reading on the front pages of Canada’s leading newspapers about lapsing the seemingly sacrosanct regulations governing university budgets, so a VP Finance can run a deficit and even dip into pension funds for annual operating expenses.

To repeat Mr. Brooks:
When the psychology shifts and the fiscal crisis happens, the shock will be grievous: drastic cuts and spreading pain.”

Hard choices lie ahead, and it’s for serious and committed people to make them.

“The Edge” by Mel Broitman, Director of the Canadian University Application Centre. The CUAC has brought almost 5,000 students to Canadian universities since 1998, and in doing so, injected approximately $200+ million dollars into the Canadian economy.

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About Mel

Mel has consulted universities, colleges, governmental and non-governmental organizations in the field of international education since 1997. He is co-founder of Higher-Edge, the parent of Overseas, Overwhelmed, and a director of the Canadian University Application Centre. He is a former award-winning CBC reporter and holds a Masters degree from Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

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