Meeting our moment
Post-secondary institutions face headwinds. We need to act now.
The University of Calgary has released its operational plan, Unstoppable, to keep its Eyes High ambitions to be a great research university at the heart of a resilient community.
After a decade of astonishing growth, we face new headwinds. Reduced funding, disruption in post-secondary education and an economic recession are all being accelerated by a global health emergency that could force a fundamental reimagining of the university of experience.
The University of Calgary’s grant from the Government of Alberta is being reduced from a high of $475 million in 2018/19 to $375 million in 2022/23. Depending on whether the university receives funding based on new performance measures, a further $95 million of funding could be at risk. That means the University of Calgary will have to address a grant reduction of 20% to 40% over the next several years.
Before adjusting for inflation, the University of Calgary’s provincial grant this year is the same size as it was in 2010. In that year, a very different University of Calgary had 3000 fewer students and 1500 fewer faculty and staff.
These funding reductions will force us to modernize (and reduce the size of) our operations, prioritize spending in areas it can do the most good and seek out new revenue streams to continue providing the high quality scholarship our community needs as we adapt to meet the challenges of a changing world.
Disruption in post-secondary education
Both regionally and globally, post-secondary education is seeing dramatic changes. Within Alberta, a post-secondary system review is underway that is exploring system changes up to and including consolidation, alternative governance and new focus on meeting labour market demands.
This review is happening at a time of significant changes affecting post-secondary institutions across the globe. New knowledge industries are demanding a lifelong approach to learning. New technologies have created digital citizens with very different expectations for platforms and customizability. Players that have not traditionally been in the education space – big technology and large employers – are beginning to offer programs and credentials to meet these needs.
Over the coming years, the University of Calgary will face increased competition, increased demand for online courses, increased need for upskilling and increased need to measure outcomes and prove worth.
Economic recession and the need to pivot
The Conference Board of Canada is forecasting Alberta’s economy to contract by 5.8% in 2020 – which would be the worst annual decline on record. This unprecedented recession is expected to be deeper and longer than recessions elsewhere in Canada – an unwelcome cap to six years of economic stagnation in the province.
The great Alberta recession has reduced funding and helped feed disruption in post-secondary education. It is also an imperative in its own right: to build the next Calgary will require a strong University of Calgary. Great societies are anchored by great research universities.
Cities that have faced economic challenges but made an economic pivot share a common element: a strong university that serves as a strong partner to industry and government. Such a university can serve as a catalyst for the renewal of existing industries and the creation of entirely new ones.
The University of Calgary exists to support the public good. For Calgary – and Alberta – to write its next chapter will require us to be at our best: focused, results-driven and future-oriented.
A global health emergency
Layered on top of – and accelerating – all of the reasons we need to act is the coronavirus pandemic. It has put pressure on government finances, forced a rapid push into remote program delivery and deepened Calgary’s economic woes.
There is no doubt that when the pandemic is over, we will be in a fundamentally new reality. The nature of working and learning has already changed. Public health, real estate, shopping, social services, education – all have been disrupted and can expect further disruption.
To meet this moment, University of Calgary students, faculty and staff need new tools and new focus.