Higher Education Strategy Associates

Fall 2012: You’ve Been Warned

As we’re coming to the end of the school year, it’s worth looking ahead a bit to what we can expect next year.  You know, so you can obsess about it all summer before coming home.

Public finances are only going to get worse.  Most provincial governments made their budget forecasts at a time when it looked like the US economy might be reaching take-off speed; that speed has now been firmly downgraded to “stall.” Throw in the non-negligible possibilities of Spanish bank runs, Italian bond crises, Chinese hard landings, and another budget deadlock in congress, and it’s a near certainty that most provincial governments are going to miss their revenue targets.   Cue more public sector restraint.  Cue hiring freezes.  Cue some seriously unhappy post-docs.

As new money becomes scarce, the disputes over how to spend that money will intensify.  This year, we had the OPSEU strike in Ontario Colleges, the McGill support staff strike, the Brandon University strike – and of course the student strike in Quebec.  Next year won’t be any easier; expect at least one knock-down-drag-‘em-out fight at a major university this year.

Governments outside Quebec aren’t quite desperate enough to annoy the middle class by raising tuition significantly – I think we’ve got another year or two before they head down this route.  But I do think this might be the year that one or two provincial governments finally start to cut tuition tax credits.  Not only are they a dumb use of resources, but they also provide governments with very little in the way of political credit, which will make them easier pickings.  In Nova Scotia, for instance, cutting the provincial tuition and education credits in half would increase provincial revenues by an amount roughly equivalent to an 8% rise in tuition.  It should be a no-brainer.

I also think next year might be the year Canadian universities realize this whole internationalization shtick is a lot tougher than it looks.  We’ve had it easy the last few years with the US, UK and Australia all finding ways to shoo away international students.  Now that all three are getting their game back, we’re going to find it a lot tougher – and would do so even if there we hadn’t had two high-profile homicides of Chinese students (our biggest market) in the last fifteen months.   With budgets getting ever tighter, expect a lot more attention on this file.

My safest prediction: a technology-led Great Disruption in higher education will continue to be notable by its complete absence anywhere other than editorial pages.

My boldest prediction: a merger attempt between two universities in different countries in an attempt to create a global education brand.

Interesting times, to be sure.

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