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Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Do the tea leaves point to a new brew in Ontario ?

A confluence of factors all in the news this week may give us a good indication of what to look for down the not-too-distant-road in Canada’s biggest province with its most number of universities and students.

1. Federal government to save 1.5 million on eliminating SIN cards.
2. Demographer David Foote says declining enrollment in Ontario schools.
3. Quebec student protest unrelenting.
4. Dalhousie University merges with Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC).

When relatively small savings from eliminating SIN cards (and the recent closing of a few visa offices overseas) are easy cuts, we can only imagine what’s ahead for post-secondary education in Ontario – the Province with the most fat to trim.

If demographers are correct that the Province’s school populations are not growing, then how much longer will it be until Ontario universities and colleges go under a surgical knife ? Can the transplant of one program, campus or entire university into another be far behind ? Will it not make sense to achieve economies of scale by merging selected campuses ? Why not have a smaller northern or western campus be swallowed up (along with many of the costs) by another larger institution ?

Nova Scotia’s recent merger of its Agricultural College within its largest university (Dalhousie) is sold to the public as building a national and international centre of excellence and providing students with more choice. But it’s also about consolidating jobs and cutting costs. The union fight to keep everyone’s salary is just beginning.

This can’t be far off in Ontario, where budgets are already stretched, pension obligations are in jeopardy and the government is going to be loathe to allow for significant increases in tuitions. All provinces especially Ontario, must be watching the chaos of the student protests in Quebec closely, and be extremely wary not to light that match in their own backyards.

So while in the last decade there was talk of more campuses in Ontario – it is more likely that by the end of this decade, there will be less, not more.

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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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