10 Chapter 10: Policy Project Case Study “Tough Times”

Tough Times (University Based)


The Ministry of Education has announced that, following policies of austerity, there will be a dramatic reduction of funding to universities in the province. As a result, it has been proposed by the Board of Governors that tuition at your university will increase in increments of 1.5%, 2.0%, and 2.5% over the next three years respectively.


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Description of the Context

Your university has been facing growing competition from other universities and the college sector in the past two decade. Declining student admissions has meant that the university’s operating budget has been reduced over the last five years. In an effort to balance the budget, the Board of Governors announced plans to restructure the finance model used for research expenditures (which will result in funding cuts to some departments) along with delaying much needed infrastructure upgrades. Many in the university community are concerned that this will only further damage the university’s reputation. The recent funding cuts announced by the government have driven the university’s financial situation to a critical state which must be addressed. Prior to the announcement of the tuition increases, rumors had been circulating throughout the campus of the prospect of cutting programs and student services.

The university itself is a mid-sized institution focused mainly on undergraduate education. The institution offers some specialized programs in health sciences and agriculture which, while small, are important to the university’s reputation and brand. These programs are expensive to run because of the nature of the learning and research environments that are required. While they have the highest number of applications and highest admission averages according to the Registrar’s Office, these programs only represent 3% of the student population, but 35% of the research output of the university. Although expansion of these programs has been discussed, the Department Chairs are resistant, claiming that accepting any more students would reduce the quality of education which is underpinned by very low student-to-faculty ratios. Unlike the health science and agricultural programs, the humanities and business programs are large but their enrollment has been declining significantly over the last decade. Collectively, the faculty members in these departments represent the largest salary expenses for the university. There has been talk of reviewing how these faculties function and potentially cutting programs. Many of these faculty members are nearing or already in their retirement years and are seen by younger faculty and sessional instructors as blocking the way for their career growth.

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Having recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, the university is steeped in tradition and many faculty and staff have had long standing careers with the institution. Change is usually slow and resisted. The Vice-President of Students was appointed 1 year ago, having previously held a deanship at the province’s largest urban university. While she has not announced any official plans, it is well known that she is a strong proponent of efficiencies and is underwhelmed by the student services at your university. This culture shift has caused some upset among the unionized student services staff in the Registrar’s Office who feel that they are already understaffed and underfunded. Additionally, the university has recently launched a new community partnership initiative which is still in its fledgling stages. This was established in response to calls from the community (business, not-for-profit, education, municipal government) for the university to play a more pivotal role in regional affairs and economic initiatives. There has been backlash to the creation of this unit while research budgets are being tightened and student services are under a microscope.

The student population of the university is very diverse representing students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. Roughly 35% of the university’s students are mature students who have returned to their studies after time away from school; this group includes student parents, students who have returned to upgrade their skills for career advancement, and third generation learners. These students are mainly from the local area. 15% of the student population is international students predominantly from China, the Middle East, and South America. These students are not eligible for government subsidies or assistance. The remaining 50% of the student population are traditional aged students who are predominantly from within a 90km radius of the institution. Student fees at the institution are some of the lowest in the province. Even with the proposed tuition increase, student fees and tuition will still be on par with other institutions and below the provincial average.

Task Description

You will assume one of the roles from the following stakeholder groups (number of people per role is in brackets):

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  1. President of the University (1)
  2. Provost of the University (1)
  3. Members of the Board of Governors (2)
  4. Dean of the Faculty of Education (1)
  5. The Executive of the Faculty Association (3-4)
  6. Undergraduate Student Union Executive (3-4)
  7. Sessional Instructor (3-4)
  8. Department Chair (2-3)

Week 1 – Town Hall Forum – The President’s Office has announced that there will be a special town hall meeting for all members of the university in response to the announcement. Based on your role, you will be asked to present your position on the proposed tuition changes at the meeting in front of the university community. Do you support or oppose the tuition proposal 21 and why? What does the institution stand to gain or lose as a result of the proposed changes? Share your statement.

Week 2 – Task Force – It was evident at the town hall meeting that the proposed tuition changes have generated a lot of discussion and that the viewpoints on the matter are quite mixed. As a result of the town hall meeting, the Board of Governors, Senate, and the university’s Executive Committee have struck a task force to review the proposed tuition increases. While the tuition increase remains an option, other revenue generating/cost saving proposals will be considered by the Chair of the task force  before recommending the new budget model for the upcoming 3 years.

  • All stakeholders other than the President – Each stakeholder group must present a single, cohesive proposal to the Chair of the task force on how they propose generating revenue and/or mitigating expenses over the next 3 years in order to balance the budget. With the other members of your stakeholder subgroup, compose your proposal including a SWAT analysis. Share your proposal.
  • President – You will be responsible for assisting the Chair of the task force in evaluating the proposals presented by each stakeholder group. Transparency is an important tenant of your leadership, so you have elected to share the framework you create for evaluating the proposals. The framework will outline what criteria you will be suggesting the Chair use in assessing the proposals, as well as a list of priorities for the university that will help guide the Chair’s considerations. Share your proposal.

Week 3 – Navigating Change – The proposals have been reviewed and the Chair of the task force has announced which proposal they recommend the university move forward with; however the announcement has been met by some resistance. The university is not accustomed to rapid change of this nature. The media has recently caught wind of the situation on campus and has approached you to comment on the proposal given that you were on the task force. The Director of Public Relations for the institution has recently sent out an email to all member of the task force reminding them of the importance of bolstering the university’s brand and reputation, especially as student recruitment season is kicking off this month with the Ontario Universities Fair. You have also consulted with a colleague before responding to the media. They reminded you that the last time the university faced this type of situation it was the outspoken comments of former members of your stakeholder group to a national newspaper that helped the university’s leadership correct course.

  1. Your statement – Post your statement to the media about your position on the proposal selected by the task force Chair. Be sure to identify your role at the university in the subject line.
  2. Your response – Apparently you are not the only member of the task force who was sought out by the media. They have asked for you to comment on the statement made by a member of a different stakeholder group. Select a statement made by someone who holds a different role (i.e. if you are a sessional instructor, do not respond to the statement made by another sessional instructor). Does their statement align with your perspective on the proposal? Where do you think you share common ground and where there is divergence?

Note that each statement can only be responded to once – if a statement has already been replied to you must select a different statement to which to respond.

Remember to keep your statement professional and not personal. If you feel that in your role you would disagree with elements of the statement you may expand on this in your response; however you are not to personally attack the individual who posted the original statement.

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