NOVA SCOTIA HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Department of Labour and Advanced Education
Funding to Universities
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
Public Accounts Committee
Hon. Keith Colwell, Chairman
Mr. Howard Epstein, Vice-Chairman
Mr. Clarrie MacKinnon
Mr. Gary Ramey
Mr. Mat Whynott
Mr. Brian Skabar
Mr. Andrew Younger
Mr. Chuck Porter
Mr. Allan MacMaster
[Mr. Gary Ramey was replaced by Ms. Michele Raymond.]
Mrs. Darlene Henry
Legislative Committee Clerk
Ms. Ann McDonald
Assistant Auditor General
Mr. Gordon Hebb
Legislative Counsel Office
Department of Labour and Advanced Education
Ms. Sandra McKenzie - Deputy Minister
Ms. Ava Czapalay - Senior Executive Director, Higher Education
Ms. Laurie Bennett - Director, Financial Planning
HALIFAX, WEDNESDAY, MAY 15, 2013
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
Hon. Keith Colwell
Mr. Howard Epstein
MR. CHAIRMAN: I’d like to bring the meeting to order. We’ll start with introductions.
[The committee members and witnesses introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good morning, I’d like to welcome our guests this morning. Ms. Czapalay, are you prepared to make an opening statement on behalf of your department?
MS. AVA CZAPALAY: I actually hadn’t anticipated that the deputy wouldn’t be here so I don’t have the speech, but I can spare you the detailed remarks.
I’ll just say I’ve worked in the Higher Education branch since August 1st and the system encompasses the 10 universities, the 13 community college campuses, and the private-sector career colleges - there are 49 of them. We have a wealth of education and training options available in Nova Scotia but it also presents a challenge to managing the system. You’ve seen in the media reports, and likely you’ve heard here in the House, the challenges that we face on a regular basis in managing such a large system.
In recent months we put a lot of emphasis on working with the institutions to encourage them to develop sustainable plans so they can continue to offer quality education to the students and a quality education experience to the public, while at the same time living within their means.
We’ll look forward to any questions that we can answer.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. We’ll start with Mr. Younger.
MR. ANDREW YOUNGER: You’re going to be able to answer questions on behalf of the department?
MS. CZAPALAY: I can, with my trusty friend, Laurie.
MR. YOUNGER: I’d like to get an idea - I know the government has expressed concern over the debt levels at NSCAD, so I guess I’ll start there. Can you tell me what the debt levels are at the other universities in the province - or debt and deficit, because I guess they are more concerned with the deficit level at NSCAD than the debt, although they are intrinsically tied?
MS. CZAPALAY: First of all, to take it to a high level, the collective debt of the university sector in Nova Scotia is about $300 million. Also, if you look at the deferred maintenance debt, that’s where they don’t upkeep their buildings to the degree that’s desirable; it’s around $800 million. That alone can give you a sense of the state that the system is in, in terms of debt.
NSCAD has chosen to take its issues with the debt, public, so it’s more visible, but definitely Acadia and St. F.X. also have issues with managing their budgets.
MR. YOUNGER: Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t it be fair to say that NSCAD has taken theirs public because the government has taken a more active role in the NSCAD situation than perhaps it has in Acadia or St. F.X. for example? Would that be fair?
MS. CZAPALAY: I think with Acadia we’re actively engaged as well. With St. F.X., it has just recently come to our attention that their debt is at the level that it is. That came through the media as well.
MR. YOUNGER: What options are being looked at for managing the debt of these universities?
MS. CZAPALAY: We’re actively . . .
MR. YOUNGER: I know you’re not going to write them a cheque and pay it off. That’s not what I mean by that, but obviously you’re having discussions with them to try to address this issue.
MS. CZAPALAY: To go back to your original question regarding NSCAD, the government has supplied NSCAD with about $17 million in special funding, above and beyond their share of the operating grant over the last several years. That’s not sustainable. We would like NSCAD to develop a plan where it can show how it’s going to go forward, managing its budget within the envelope that government supplies to it, without coming forward every year with requests for special funding to help them top up their operating deficits or budget.
MR. YOUNGER: I agree in principle that you want to get to the point where people aren’t coming for extra money all the time and I don’t think that’s unique to the university sector, I think it’s probably the same in - I know it’s the same problem in many of the cultural sectors where you want to get them on a sustainable foundation, and that’s the goal.
As you noted, you’re looking at roughly a $300 million total debt among the universities, give or take, plus the deferred maintenance of $800 million. The deferred maintenance is a serious issue. It’s relative to different universities, how serious it is, but it’s serious for all of them, to some extent, but the funding has been cut to those universities by 3 per cent in each of the past three years - it is three years, right?
MS. CZAPALAY: It is a total of 10 per cent over three years.
MR. YOUNGER: Okay, so a total of 10 per cent over three years. Obviously the effect of that is to put more pressure on the deferred maintenance costs because that’s generally the easiest place - unfortunately it’s the easiest place to say we’ll put that off for a year, fixing the roof. If you have a university like Dalhousie, or for that matter even St. F.X. or Acadia, they have older buildings and older facilities.
I guess what I’d like to get at - it strikes me that the side effect of cutting the university grants 10 per cent over the three years would be to increase the pressure on the deferred maintenance deficit that you talked about at the beginning, but then at the same time, you’re trying to create a situation where the universities aren’t coming back and asking for special funding.
MS. CZAPALAY: We’re trying to also create a situation where the universities are taking costs permanently out of the system, and we’re encouraging them to work collaboratively and to come up with innovative solutions. You’re probably aware of the Excellence and Innovation Fund, the $25 million fund that has been set up. Initially the universities came forward with fairly small projects related to energy savings but we saw some momentum build this year where the projects became much more collaborative, frankly, more creative, and working towards significant cost savings; for example, looking at shared IT services, shared library services, and setting up a common application portal.
They’re moving in a direction where we’re hoping that they look at sustainability, living within their means, but also working closer together and collaborating wherever possible, to take permanent costs out of the system.
MR. YOUNGER: I think that makes sense. I think that sort of thing can address the annual operating costs, but the deferred maintenance issue and the existing debt already exist. My concern is that we can look and say, all right, we’re going to reduce the costs of X university by 3 per cent and we’re going to help them find cost efficiencies through any of the things that you’ve talked about. I think those make sense: the shared IT, and the libraries used to be more shared than they are now so getting back to more shared libraries.
All that makes sense and will reduce the operating costs but because their grant is being cut at the same time, that’s not giving them extra money that they can put into addressing the $800 million in deferred maintenance or paying down their debt because they’ve seen their power bills increase by roughly 30 per cent, give or take. They pay different rates, depending on which university it is, but roughly 30 per cent over the past four years.
Dalhousie, for example, which may be the only one that’s on natural gas, switched to natural gas to save money and, of course, then they got hit by the Deep Panuke coming down and had a massive gas bill this year. They’re getting hit by costs that exceed the savings that they’re going to achieve short term, plus the deferred maintenance bill is growing.
I’m just trying to get at that disconnect and how we address it. I agree that long term, part of it has to be getting the operating savings, but at the same time it strikes me that those operating savings are helping them deal with the 3 per cent cut, perhaps, but their deferred maintenance bill is still growing.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. McKenzie.
MS. SANDRA MCKENZIE: I apologize for being late.
MR. YOUNGER: I’ve been late, too, so it’s okay.
MS. MCKENZIE: In response to the issue you’ve raised, there’s an assumption that they would have used the $25 million, perhaps, to have put against deferred maintenance. The reality is that there wasn’t money being put against deferred maintenance over time.
I’m not sure what Ava covered, and I apologize for this, but I’m sure Ava has spoken to the fact that the challenge we are currently having with post-secondary education is being had in every province; it is being had in every country. Currently the way that Nova Scotia has approached it is to bring the universities to a table, under a memorandum of understanding, looking at what is turning out to be a very modest reduction in comparison to other provinces in Canada, where there have been $140 million hits in one year in Alberta.
I can go through a number of other provinces where there has been no time, no collaboration, no opportunity to plan, and no innovation fund that has been put in place to be able to do some of this offset planning. What you’re identifying are big, huge issues, and Nova Scotia taxpayers are committed to a strong post-secondary system. The reality is we have 10 universities in the Province of Nova Scotia and the strength in the memorandum of understanding is that table where we come together to be able to take on and address some of those issues, so deferred maintenance is certainly one of the things that we have been discussing.
MR. YOUNGER: I agree and I didn’t want to suggest that the $25 million would have gone into deferred maintenance. I guess what my concern was is that the 3 per cent might have - might not have, we obviously don’t know - but what my concern was is that that deferred maintenance bill is continuing to grow every year. You can go to any university in this province, talk to any university president, and they are still not putting much money into the deferred maintenance issue because it’s the easy place to save money.
Then the other issue they have - now, I know there are different numbers of international students at different universities, but because the cap on tuition increases doesn’t apply to graduate programs or professional programs - I’m not sure if it applies to graduate programs but professionals programs - and doesn’t apply to international students, the international student tuition has been going up and now at some universities in Nova Scotia it exceeds some comparable costs in the U.S. for international students.
That used to be one of the ways that we were able to - and I don’t know what the price should be for an international student, I have no idea, but I know that one of the things that the universities were trying to do to get additional revenue was to bring in more international students. As the cohort for local students goes down they pay a higher percentage of the cost of their education, which is obviously a benefit to the university.
One of the things that was a great marketing tool for students from Saudi Arabia, or from England, or wherever the case may be - or even from the States. I went with a lot of kids from the States at Dal and Kings who came here because it was cheaper than going to the States, and now there’s a much closer relationship between some of the programs and the international fees. I’m just concerned that we are getting into a self-defeating situation where we’re trying to address an issue, which is a real issue. I recognize you’re trying to address it, but the effect of that is actually going to put more pressure on other areas, whether it’s deferred maintenance or the revenue from students, or whatever the case may be.
MS. MCKENZIE: I appreciate that you’re identifying how complex the issue is. I don’t know if you saw the results from the MPHEC study yesterday, which showed that although there has been a decline in Nova Scotia students attending universities, there has been a 150 per cent increase in international students attending Nova Scotia universities. International students - and I’ll let Ava respond to this - are looking for high-quality education and they’re finding it in Nova Scotia, and that’s reflected in the increases in the numbers. In terms of price, if they can look at comparable prices and get a higher quality, that’s why we’re able to attract them.
MR. YOUNGER: I agree and I did see those numbers and I don’t want to suggest that those numbers have dropped yet. I’ve spoken to a number of the university presidents and executives who have indicated they’re concerned that we are close to that tipping point, because you’re right, people will pay - maybe people will even pay a bit more to come to Dal versus somewhere else. It depends on the programs, too, because different programs will compete in different places. For an international student, maybe Dal law competes with - I really have no idea, like Harvard for example, for the sake of argument. I don’t know what the competitors are in different degree programs, but many of them have commented that we will reach that tipping point at some point because there’s a certain point where you won’t pay 50 per cent more tuition, for example, if you can get a comparable degree at a reputable place - maybe even elsewhere in Canada.
What I’m concerned about is, fine, we’re trying to address the operating costs and I think some of things that are being done there make sense - whether it’s working together on registration or things like that, or looking at those that make sense. But you still have this massive deferred maintenance bill and there’s a certain point where - again, I’ll use Dal because it’s the biggest one so it’s easy to use the example. They’ve got to the point where it’s cheaper to tear down some buildings and build new ones because they’re not in a “renovateable” - I’m not sure if that’s a word - but you can’t renovate them at a certain point. I’m just wondering what the plan is to deal with that deferred maintenance amount because that seems to be the big elephant in the room.
MS. CZAPALAY: I just wanted to speak to the first part of your question on the international students because we are, through the Higher Education branch, developing an international student strategy to look at mechanisms that will maintain a quality experience for the international students studying in Nova Scotia. I think maybe that’s where you’re headed with the question - if we’re charging them double tuition, let’s make sure they have a quality experience when they come here so that when they go back home that perpetuates itself.
MR. YOUNGER: Or maybe so they can stay. If we’re working with the Immigration Strategy, maybe we should also be trying to get some of those people to stay in Nova Scotia, or make it easier for them to stay.
MS. CZAPALAY: I completely agree with that. You don’t go into a country recruiting students with the idea that we don’t promote that they’ll stay as immigrants, but when they’re here, if they meet people and they want to settle here and they have job opportunities here, then they will want to stay. I also wanted to mention that credential recognition is huge when recruiting international students and a Canadian degree - whether it’s from Nova Scotia or British Columbia - still has that cache.
Your ultimate question went back to the deferred maintenance issue and I can start that, deputy, if you wanted me to, or did you want to tackle it? I was just reading in allnovascotia.com about the Fountains’ donation to the Dalhousie Arts Centre and I think that is a fairly typical announcement, in that their $10 million award went to arts programming on the condition that Dal renovate the Arts Centre. Quite often you’ll find that the big donations and the alumni donations don’t go towards addressing maintenance issues; they’re more towards programming or a new building that they can have a name put on.
MR. YOUNGER: Of course.
MS. CZAPALAY: So there is a gap between operating the university and the funding . . .
MR. YOUNGER: That’s why I think it’s an issue because you can raise money to build a new building, but as you point out, it’s pretty hard to raise money to renovate.
MS. CZAPALAY: Exactly.
MS. MCKENZIE: The other piece of that is that the nature of post-secondary education is changing to some extent. What you’re seeing is a number of professors that are providing their PowerPoint presentations on-line and using different types of spaces to gather students together so they can work in teams, so not everything is being delivered in a lecture-hall mode anymore. We may need, actually, the new types of spaces or moving away from massive lecture halls.
MR. YOUNGER: I don’t know if we’re moving away from that because when - and I agree that some of the courses in the upper years are delivered in that way, but my first-year biology class at Dal had 300 students in a lecture hall; now they’re in a lecture hall down the road, in a new building that has significantly more students in it, in first-year biology. So the first-year classes are still 300, 400, 500 young people. I don’t think that’s a bad thing necessarily, but we probably need both of those types of spaces, but it still means we have the deferred maintenance.
If you walk through the Life Sciences Centre or - I was over at Saint Mary’s University the other day and if you walk through some of their buildings, they have buildings that are being held together with Band-Aids and duct tape, right? It’s not unique - the province has done that, the federal government has done that, and the municipalities have done that, where they’ve allowed deferred maintenance to build up. But it gets more expensive.
I guess it’s good that there is some work being done on reducing operating costs for universities, I think that’s good. I’m just wondering - we’re still going to have that elephant in the room of $800 million which grows every year, and probably grows not at a linear rate but probably more at an exponential rate, to some extent.
MS. MCKENZIE: You’re identifying a problem that has been years and years and years in the making, and we are a year and a half into this memorandum of understanding and we are dealing with what is a very complex set of issues, intertwined. So I want to provide you my assurance that we are looking at the issues that are putting pressures on universities and looking at this through a system approach. When the government entered into the memorandum of understanding, it was with the idea that collaboratively, we’ll need to take on what are huge challenges in post-secondary education.
MR. YOUNGER: You may not get time to answer this, I’m not sure. If Economic and Rural Development and Tourism or another department provides funding to a university for research purposes, which happens sometimes, or innovation work, which we see announcements in that sometimes - and I understand most of it is federal. Often that is the same problem as the Fountain donation, which is welcome of course, but it is operating money that still requires a lab, or requires a research facility, or whatever else. Is that being looked at with other departments, that if they’re going to give funding for an operational thing, they would talk about maybe whether they could provide capital funding at the same time?
MS. MCKENZIE: Just so you’re aware, we do work with ERDT on any money that would be transferred under their research program. In addition, we transfer $15 million a year to do the support for research and development, which is used for exactly the type of work that you just described.
MR. YOUNGER: Okay.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Unfortunately Mr. Younger’s time has expired. Mr. MacMaster.
MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning. The first thing I think about university education is the importance of optimizing the quality of the education with the affordability of it. And I know many of the offerings that government provides to universities - they seem to encourage inflation of tuition. There are tuition subsidies, which I guess mask the true cost of the tuition for the student. There’s debt forgiveness, we have that now. Those are good things, because they try to keep the costs down for students, but they may be contributing to inflated prices of tuition because they’re masking the true cost for the student, and we know that students are paying more and more every year. What requirements around affordability do we ask from the universities when we give them the tuition subsidies?
MS. CZAPALAY: We offer Nova Scotia students a bursary, and the bursary is $1,283 per student, and it’s automatically deducted from their tuition. As a parent of a university student, I have to say, I just saw the bottom line - I didn’t see the bursary amount. I would have liked to have seen the bursary amount, I knew of it up front.
Government has a commitment to keep Nova Scotia tuition for Nova Scotia students at or below the national average. It’s just below the national average for Nova Scotia students this year; I think it’s something like $30 below. So the reality is that Nova Scotia students are finding their undergraduate tuition to be what they would find in other provinces generally - it’s affordable.
There are a number of various initiatives. The government has put a lot of money in the student assistance program, so rather than get involved with masking tuition or anything like that, it has taken a different perspective, which is to enhance the student assistance program quite significantly over the last few years. More than $100 million has gone into enhancing it so that students can actually access university education.
MR. MACMASTER: I guess that’s my point though. The government is pouring all the money in, but there’s no requirement for the university itself to keep the tuition down. The reason tuition amounts are being kept down is because government is pouring more and more money in every year.
MS. CZAPALAY: We’ve capped the tuition at 3 per cent in the current MOU.
MR. MACMASTER: Now, is that so there’s a requirement that the universities can’t raise it above 3 per cent per year?
MS. CZAPALAY: They can’t. The only exceptions are the professional schools: medicine, dentistry, and law.
MR. MACMASTER: Do you work with the universities to look inside their cost structures to see how it could be made even lower than that?
MS. CZAPALAY: We have the memorandum of understanding in place that has a number of aspects to it, including working with universities to look at funding formulas; we’re doing a tuition review next year. We engage with the students to find out what their pressing concerns and perspectives are. So we are working with the stakeholders to first of all get their perspective on where the pressures are within the system, and secondly, work to identify solutions that are affordable to Nova Scotians.
MR. MACMASTER: I think it’s like the old 80-20 rule; a lot of things can be broken down into 80-20. I think for universities, 80 per cent of their costs are salaries for faculty. What is the solution to making that side of their business model more efficient or streamlined?
MS. CZAPALAY: It’s true that a large part of the operating costs are salaries. It’s like that in any business, I would guess. It’s in the range between 70 and 80 per cent.
The universities have certainly flagged that over the years. You have different organizations within the universities flagging salaries as a concern. Part of the issue is that in order to maintain the quality that Mr. Younger flagged, you need to attract quality people. So the challenge is maintaining that balance and offering a quality education and a quality experience to the students but also managing the costs. Certainly looking at salaries and retirement packages and all of that is something the universities are doing right now.
How government can help, we’re talking with the university presidents about that, but they have to come forward with a plan in terms of how they propose to manage those costs and then we’re standing by, ready to respond.
MS. MCKENZIE: In addition, the government moved last year to address pension pressures with the universities, which I believe relieved the universities of about $70 million worth of pressures. These are the types of things that we’re working with the universities, as creatively as possible, to address what are big, complicated, and entwined problems.
MR. MACMASTER: I think you’re referring to the change from solvency going from 10 years to 15 years for their pensions.
MS. MCKENZIE: Actually, they were exempt.
MR. MACMASTER: They’re exempt from that rule?
MS. MCKENZIE: Yes.
MR. MACMASTER: Okay. I know it does help for their cash flow because they’re not required to put that money in but the liability remains for the pension plan. Certainly you’re right; it does help their cash flow. I won’t get into pensions today.
My next question is, how many professors would be on the pay list but not actually lecturing? Is that something you would keep information on?
MS. MCKENZIE: I wouldn’t have that information today.
MR. MACMASTER: Is it something the department keeps a record of?
MS. MCKENZIE: We’re working with the universities to better understand how they’re using faculty at each of the universities. One of the conversations we’ve been having, for instance, is that there’s more use of part-time faculty in an urban area than there would be in rural universities. That causes different pressures in terms of the faculty and the staffing and their ability to move more expensive staffing and the things that are available to the urban universities to use. That has been the conversation but we haven’t asked for that type of reporting.
MR. MACMASTER: So it’s possible that there could be faculty on the payroll that aren’t actually teaching; the universities are benefiting from the subsidy government is providing, but the students aren’t benefiting from having somebody who’s being paid for actually teaching them.
MS. CZAPALAY: I was just mentioning to the deputy, that’s part of the individual collective agreements that are negotiated at each institution, separately from government’s involvement.
MR. MACMASTER: My next question is, are universities starting to focus on one main discipline and trying to specialize in that faculty?
MS. MCKENZIE: A significant part of the conversation that we’ve had is what does a differentiated system look like in Nova Scotia and how can we benefit from each of the universities defining what their areas of differentiation or specialty are? That has been a robust and healthy conversation.
MR. MACMASTER: Next question - I’ve heard this about some of the universities and you’ll probably know which one I’m speaking about. I know it is important for universities to do research work but there has been a comment that sometimes there is too much focus on research. What I mean by that is that there’s a real interest to garner the prestige of research work over educating students. How does this play out? While we see universities choose students who are more research-focused, and as a result we end up putting resources towards educating students who might not stay in Nova Scotia, who might be very capable students and do well in earning university research grants, only to leave our province, we might have other students who want to stay and make careers here.
I think of people who are studying in medical school. Instead of educating more Nova Scotia students to become doctors, who are likely to stay in our province, we may be putting the resources towards somebody who is doing research work, which generates prestige for the university, but then that student leaves the province. Maybe they go to Ontario or somewhere to do more research work - which is helpful, certainly - but if we’re trying to get doctors in rural Nova Scotia, I wonder if we’re trying to align our goals.
We have an interest, as government, to make sure that we’re educating people, especially when it comes to doctors, to choose people who will actually stay in our province because we are helping to subsidize their education. Can you comment on that?
MS. MCKENZIE: I’m going to start and then I’ll pass it over to Ava. There is a conversation underway, currently, with the universities. Universities don’t just live within the province that houses them, they have to be nationally competitive, they have to be internationally competitive, yet the taxpayers who support the universities need to see the benefit back from their investment.
The theme we’re working with, with the universities, is internationally competitive but locally connected. They need to understand what our workforce requirements are, including doctors, but everything from what the IT companies that are starting up require, through to the whole nine yards in terms of the emerging sectors and our traditional sectors. This is a conversation that we’ve been having with them, and Ava can speak specifically to the questions you had about faculty.
MS. CZAPALAY: Both the deputy and I have the benefit of having worked in economic development as well as in the education field. You’ll be aware, as well, that most small and medium enterprises in Nova Scotia have fewer than 10 employees. They’re the cornerstone of our economy, but it also doesn’t mean that a lot of research is going on in a small company of that size.
The universities are the research engine for much more than just research itself; they’re providing support to the economic sector through supporting companies. The deputy has a single-minded focus, I would say, on - I was about to say “making” - encouraging the universities to be more supportive of industry and helping industry become more innovative through partnerships with the universities.
The business of the universities is twofold, historically: to do research and to advance academic thought, and also to teach students but to teach them in a way that encourages them to inquire and do their own research. So we also have Nova Scotia students who don’t want to be doctors, but want to be researchers and to engage with the university on that level.
We were talking to the president of Dalhousie last night and he said we’ve lost some good researchers but we’ve also attracted some good researchers. The nature of academics and research is that they’re very mobile and they will travel both to Nova Scotia and from Nova Scotia.
One of the things, when the deputy was talking about differentiation, we have some very obvious strengths here in Nova Scotia, and we hope in the coming years to build those up so that we do become a centre that attracts researchers, for example, in the ocean studies and research field, and become renowned for that. That perpetuates itself by attracting more students and so on.
The only way that we intend to really get involved in the research side of things within the university is to encourage the institutions to work in closer collaboration with local industry. We see that, for example, at Acadia University where they’re working closely with the Grape Growers Association. We’d like to see more of that - local industries supported by the university researchers.
MS. MCKENZIE: Just to follow up on Ava’s comments, in addition, most of the research is done at Dalhousie; it’s upwards of over 80 per cent. In the differentiation system that we’re thinking about, a number of our universities are emerging as high-quality undergraduate teaching universities, so there is some research that’s going on there, but their quality and the thing they’re selling themselves on is actually the teaching experience. So we do actually have, in the differentiated system, that kind of balance emerging.
MR. MACMASTER: I know universities are great economic contributors and I think especially in St. F.X. - where I went - in Antigonish, they certainly have the regional hospital, but the university is a huge part of that town and the county’s economy, and it reaches out beyond the county. I do have some questions around efficiencies between universities. We do have a large number of universities relative to the student population. I do like the fact that we have different identities at the schools; I think that’s a good thing.
One of the things I think about - as much as universities are economic generators, if we have students leaving with too much debt, there’s an opportunity cost there. When students graduate, they don’t have disposable income to spend within our domestic economy. I know that’s one of the biggest issues for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. I know power rates are important to them, but I also know the strength of the domestic economy is really a determinant of their success, so if we have a lot of young people coming out with a lot of debt, they’re not able to buy things in the economy as freely as they would if they didn’t have that debt, so I think there needs to be a balance there.
My next set of questions involves the other 20 per cent side of the cost for universities, and that would be overhead expenses and whatnot. I know there has been some talk about how we can find ways for them to share expenses given they’re in our province and maybe there are some efficiencies to be achieved there. Is there a solution to the high overhead expenses that we have at all of our universities in this province?
MS. MCKENZIE: I’m going to start with the first part of your comments and then I’m going to pass it over to Ava to talk about how we’re using the Excellence and Innovation Fund to deal with the energy costs and what have you.
In terms of student debt in Nova Scotia, this government has introduced a debt cap, which in effect, at the end of your undergraduate degree, means that you only owe the portion of your Canada student loan that’s left; the full Nova Scotia student loan is forgiven. That is a significant contribution on behalf of the province.
In terms of the overhead costs, I’ll turn that over to Ava.
MS. CZAPALAY: Under the Excellence and Innovation Fund, a total of 34 projects have been approved to date through two rounds of program proposals and funding. I just have a breakdown from round two for you to give you a sense of the types of proposals that we received and approved. We received seven proposals for education services. I mentioned shared library services; for instance, they’re planning on having a central repository for their library system. There were seven energy efficiency projects. One institution proposed changing to natural gas from using bunker-C oil to heat the campus. Some are more simple - looking at energy efficiencies in the buildings themselves.
We also received some projects around facilities and IT sharing. So that 20 per cent - even though it’s a relatively small number, it does represent significant savings if the institutions can work together to take real costs out of the system. We emphasize the permanent removal of costs, so we work with the institutions to ensure that they implement their projects appropriately. Some of them are still at the feasibility stage, but the ultimate goal is to take permanent costs completely out of the system so the 20 per cent that you identified is, in fact, reduced.
MR. MACMASTER: That’s good. It’s just making me think - when I hear more about the debt forgiveness, and I know there is an obvious benefit for students, have you ever done a calculation of the tuition subsidy and the average debt forgiveness per student? I’m thinking if somebody goes to university for four years, they’re going to get four years’ worth of tuition subsidy. They’re also going to get - assuming they borrow whatever the average amount that’s borrowed - they’re going to get a percentage of that forgiven, so that they have a max debt of, I think it’s $25,000 you said. What is the average subsidy per student, per year, given they’re getting a subsidy for the tuition and they’re also getting debt forgiveness?
MS. CZAPALAY: That’s probably a number that we could calculate for you. We haven’t actually bundled it all together, I don’t think, but it’s something that could be bundled together, we will just do the math. Like I said, the Nova Scotian bursary for Nova Scotian students is $1,283 per student and then around student assistance, we always emphasize eligible students because not everyone qualifies for all of the student assistance programs, there are certain parameters in place, but if you wanted us to attempt . . .
MR. MACMASTER: Sure. I’d like to see the average.
MS. CZAPALAY: . . . a calculation, we could try to get something together.
MR. MACMASTER: The debt forgiveness is certainly helpful for students but it’s really another addition to the tuition subsidy because it’s helping to pay for the costs of the university education. I’d just be curious to see what the total, ultimate subsidy is per year, per student for going to university and relate that to the average cost for tuition.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Unfortunately Mr. MacMaster’s time has expired. Mr. Epstein.
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome to our guests, thank you. When the government changed in 2009, one of the initiatives was to set up a study of the universities. Of course you’ll know that the economist Tim O’Neill was asked to look extensively at the university system and advise the government. That resulted in a report in the autumn of 2010, called Report on the University System in Nova Scotia.
This is a fairly extensive document and I’m familiar with a predecessor document, at least one in Nova Scotia. I guess that was the one from the mid-1980s when a Royal Commission chaired by Rod MacLennan looked at the university system, so it’s not a new exercise to look at our university system. That MacLennan report would have provided some background to what Tim O’Neill did. I wonder about this in terms of the extent to which it is providing guidance for the department. Is it fair to say that Dr. O’Neill’s report is the foundational document for the policies that the department is pursuing?
MS. MCKENZIE: I believe that there are significant elements of Dr. O’Neill’s report that have been taken under advisement, but in some cases Dr. O’Neill’s assessments of what might happen to some of the universities actually haven’t been borne out. So it is a report that we pay attention to, amongst a number of reports that we’re paying attention to.
MR. EPSTEIN: He seemed somewhat skeptical about enrolment prospects at some of the universities. Is that what you have in mind in terms of points that perhaps have not been borne out? Was there something else?
MS. CZAPALAY: I think the deputy was referring - in the O’Neill report I believe he mentioned that Mount Saint Vincent might ultimately look at amalgamation, and in the last few years we’ve seen Mount Saint Vincent as being a very well-run university. It doesn’t have the debt concerns that some of the others have.
You were right on the international enrolments. I believe Dr. O’Neill pinpointed that they may decline and, in fact, the MPHEC report this week indicated that, in fact, they’ve gone up quite substantially.
MR. EPSTEIN: In fact, I think the MPHEC report suggested overall that the total enrolments have gone up. Is that really the burden of what they said?
MS. CZAPALAY: The enrolment for Nova Scotia went up 1.9 per cent overall but international students went up more than 15 per cent.
MR. EPSTEIN: Sure, the domestic source of students would have declined due to general demographics, but the university system as a whole has made advances, primarily because of the international student component. That’s really what’s being said, is that right?
MS. CZAPALAY: That’s correct.
MR. EPSTEIN: I’m glad you mentioned the Mount because I have to say that was a very striking observation in Dr. O’Neill’s report from 2010. It seemed to suggest that there might not be a useful future for the Mount as an independent entity. Can you bring me up to date, deputy, about this, about the current state of play with respect to the Mount from the perspective of the department?
MS. MCKENZIE: From the perspective of the department, the Mount is a very well-run university. That would be one of the areas of the O’Neill report that actually hasn’t borne out. I would say that overall, if we were to take Dr. O’Neill’s report, the key that we have to pay attention to is that our current system is not sustainable. That’s the premise of which we entered into a memorandum of understanding. Whether or not he was correct on the individual pieces, I would say that on Mount Saint Vincent University they are a very well-run university and they are competitive with other well-run universities in Canada.
MR. EPSTEIN: Can you actually explain to me what you mean by that - that the current system is not sustainable?
MS. MCKENZIE: We’ve done an estimation that even with - I’m speculating on these numbers - even if we were to maintain a 3 per cent tuition cap, which would still be increases to universities, even if there started to be a 2 per cent addition into the university system in the out years, which would be above potential growth that we could expect, that would still result in about a $100 million gap. So there is a structural gap between what the universities are bringing in as revenue and what they project their expenditures are into the future. That is the conversation we’re having in terms of the structural nature of the issue and what we can do to address it.
MR. EPSTEIN: Are you saying the department has a view as to the appropriate proportion of university revenue that ought to come from tuition, from research grants, and from the government?
MS. MCKENZIE: I wouldn’t say that was what I was referring to. What I was referring to is if we were to even factor in potential growth of up to 5 per cent - 3 per cent tuition and 2 per cent government grant - there would still be a significant gap into the future, which comes from negotiated wage settlements, from a variety of different cost pressures into the future. That is the effort that we’re putting in to be able to say, what does a sustainable system look like in Nova Scotia, given that the current system fundamentally has that kind of an outlook?
MR. EPSTEIN: I’m not sure I understood the $100 million figure. Are you saying that is an annual figure for the universities as a whole? When would that be reached?
MS. MCKENIZE: In three to four years.
MR. EPSTEIN: Three to four years from now?
MS. MCKENZIE: Yes, if we were to stay on the same trajectory. Our intention is not to stay on the same trajectory.
MR. EPSTEIN: Does that figure take into account the effect of the change in the pension solvency rules?
MS. MCKENZIE: Yes, it does. I believe it does, yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: Do you have any breakdown as to where that number comes from, what it’s attributable to?
MS. MCKENZIE: We can provide that.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay. A couple of times the word “efficiencies” has been used about the system, both in terms of past achievements and in terms of future potentials. Can you help me first to understand past achievements of efficiencies inside the university system? For example, when there was a little talk earlier about the Excellence and Innovation Fund, I noticed there was a passing reference to some money having been put into the library system, if I understood that point correctly. Yet it was my understand that the university library systems had been integrated fairly thoroughly, early on, with something called Novanet in which there is kind of a coordinated acquisition and borrowing policy and so on. I wondered whether that would count as an achieved efficiency from the past and where you saw it as weak, just to take that as an example.
MS. CZAPALAY: We can get you additional details on the repository project, but essentially all the libraries in Nova Scotia are working together to look at ways where they can provide services more efficiently in general. Novanet has been in existence for years, maybe 25 years perhaps, but there are many other services. In addition to that the storage of hard-copy books is expensive and they’re looking at ways where they can be centrally stored and maintained as well. The libraries provide a whole suite of services beyond just the lending of books that students enjoy. It goes to supporting faculty and researchers and a whole suite of activities. The librarians themselves are leading this project and looking for ways where they can work together and become much more efficient.
MR. EPSTEIN: So the universities worked an efficient library system at least a couple of decades ago. I think you’re right about the timing on that, although you’re now saying it might need some tweaking. Is there not also common purchasing amongst the universities? I forget what it’s called, it has a name. Do you happen to remember what it’s called? It doesn’t matter if you can’t remember it, it’s okay.
MS. CZAPALAY: I know what you’re referring to. It’s a consortium that the university set up to purchase paper and materials.
MR. EPSTEIN: Yes, which the universities worked out for themselves. I guess what I’m wondering is what are the other kinds of efficiencies. I know on the academic side that the universities have long since worked out an agreement in which supervision of graduate students, for example, can take place with panels coming from different universities. That’s something that is worked out to the convenience and better quality of the offerings, but the universities did this on their own a long time ago. I don’t know if it has a dollar impact but it certainly does make sense. I’m wondering, what are the other efficiencies that you have in mind?
MS. CZAPALAY: I mentioned the energy efficiencies. So many of the universities undertook energy efficiency projects in the first round of the Excellence and Innovation Fund, and I also mentioned that those have become a bit more robust in the second round. We can talk about future initiatives if you want, projects that have just been approved.
MR. EPSTEIN: I think energy efficiency makes a lot of sense and I know a number of the universities have been working on this for some time. I’m sure the availability of the fund has been welcomed to try to facilitate that. What about the registrars’ offices, can you talk to us about the registrars’ offices and how this works.
MS. CZAPALAY: Sure, happy to. I worked in the registrar’s office at Dal for 10 years and there are a number of efficiencies there that we’re supporting, and now that you’ve said the word I’m going to keep repeating it probably, but one is on collaborative student recruitment. The universities themselves have robust international recruitment strategies. They also have national and local recruitment strategies and one of the aspects of recruiting students is to sell Nova Scotia as a study destination, so where they can collaborate and do that there are some efficiencies there. We’ve supported a project that they brought forward to help them do that.
We also announced the common application portal and people immediately think about the Ontario application portal, that’s one portal that exists in Canada. There are some others and what we are doing with the registrars’ offices is we’re working with them actively to identify a made-in-Nova Scotia solution that is affordable to Nova Scotian students when they are applying to universities, and also delivers a better and faster service to the students.
MR. EPSTEIN: Just before we leave that can you just tell us what the current state of play is for the common application portal?
MS. CZAPALAY: It’s really in its infancy stages. It was just announced the end of March so we are just getting started. Dalhousie is the host for the project. We have a full-time project manager dedicated to developing it and we are looking at other systems, both in Canada and elsewhere, to see how those were set up, what are the pros and cons, what are the lessons learned, and to move forward and have a system in place in two years, for students in Grade 10 when they apply to university.
MR. EPSTEIN: Right, the essence is that students wouldn’t have to fill in multiple application forms. Even if they’re interested in the possibility of going to several different universities, they could just do it once and something would happen to help them through the system automatically or with some facility - is that right?
MS. CZAPALAY: That’s correct, and the real asset is the electronic transcript from high schools in Nova Scotia to the universities.
MR. EPSTEIN: Right, so it will make it simpler, presumably less expensive, and less time-consuming?
MS. CZAPALAY: Less errors in data entry, and faster.
MR. EPSTEIN: What about transfer of credits? That’s one of the other things that registrars’ offices commonly do. How is that being dealt with now?
MS. CZAPALAY: Linked to the application portal is a transfer credit portal and we’re starting with summer school courses, but we plan to expand it. The interesting aspect of this - and this is, I think, the first time - is that NSCC will be included in the portal. The idea is that when a student is transferring from any university in Nova Scotia to another Nova Scotia university, they could type in Biology 1000, for instance, and it would show the equivalent at the other institution in terms of what they would get. Also, an NSCC student could type in whatever their courses were and it would show the credit that they would be awarded for that course.
MR. EPSTEIN: So the universities are talking about a system of acceptability of credits for transfer amongst themselves for a degree credit - is that right?
MS. CZAPALAY: Yes, and the number-one priority is to make it transparent to the students up front so they know what transfer credits they’ll be getting. Once we address the transparency issue, we hope to make it more commonly accepted that the courses across the system in years one and two are generally accepted for credit.
MR. EPSTEIN: The linkage to the community college system in this respect is very important. I’m wondering if I could hear more about the way in which the department envisages the evolution of linkages between the universities and the community colleges.
MS. CZAPALAY: Having university-aged children myself - students these days really like the “à la carte” approach. They want to take a bit from here and a bit from there and a bit from over there, and have it all come together in terms of a customized degree. Ultimately, I think employers would welcome that as well. We’d like to make it very easy for students to take courses at the community college, take courses at a university, and also take courses on-line so that they have a degree that makes sense to them and makes sense to employers.
We want to make it easier for students to move amongst institutions, both virtually and in person, and to piece together a program and a degree that makes sense. We’re doing that through the application portal. We’re going to include NSCC in that as well and then through the transfer credit portal, making it easier for students to see that their credits, from NSCC to the university and vice versa, will transfer.
MS. MCKENZIE: Additional work that is being done that I think is important to note is that one of the things we think is the most important thing that we can do is make sure that young people are choosing programming in an informed way, so that they’re entering university or entering the community college with good information in terms of what the career opportunities are.
In addition to the work that we’re doing with the universities, the government has approved a project that’s looking at moving our employment centres towards acting more as career information centres for a broader group of people, which would include young people who are choosing, to provide them with better career information. The objective there would be that, for instance, if you moved into the community college and took programming, not only would you know what your career path would be, but you would also know how that would translate into - articulation into other approved programming in the province.
If I can give you the example of my son’s experience, he decided he wanted a business degree, thought he would be better in a teaching environment to begin; has entered the Nova Scotia Community College, will move through the business programming, know that he can exit then with a diploma that’s recognized, and then can also move into Saint Mary’s University or Mount Saint Vincent University to get a full commerce degree. Those are the types of things we want to provide more information to Nova Scotia students about.
MR. EPSTEIN: I’m not sure I heard the operative word at the beginning when you were describing it. You were saying you wanted to “improve the system” or “move the system” or “move these advice centres” - what was the term that you used?
MS. MCKENZIE: What we would like to do is transition the centres from being employment centres that are currently providing advice to EI clients and IA clients into full-blown career centres that provide information for all Nova Scotians.
MR. EPSTEIN: Does that mean a physical location somewhere different than where they are now, or is it mostly on-line?
MS. MCKENZIE: We actually have 66 points of delivery in Nova Scotia, currently, but they tend to have a very limited clientele. What we’re looking at doing is expanding the clientele that they’re able to serve so that young people in high schools, through to career changers, through to people who are trying to explore what they’d like to do in the future, would have a place that they could go, get good career information, and then are making good decisions to move into the community college and universities into the future. Then we’re working to make sure that the programming is articulated so that you can move along the lines of what Ava described as an “à la carte” system.
MR. EPSTEIN: Right. We actually arrived at our discussion of this when I was asking about transfer of credits. Can I just go back to ask, what’s the current state of play on that? I got the impression that all parties were willing to engage in this. How far along is the process?
MS. CZAPALAY: On the transfer credit portal, it also is in its infancy. It’s one of those projects that was just announced at the end of March. Dalhousie is taking the lead on that project, as well, and it’s their intention to closely link it with the application portal. I should say that all of the universities have signed on to it, though.
MR. EPSTEIN: Do you have any idea what timetable you’re looking at in terms of accomplishing this?
MS. CZAPALAY: The initial phase of the transfer credit portal is to address summer school courses, so we should see by next January/February a common portal for summer school courses that are offered in the May-June-July session, and then expanding from there.
MR. EPSTEIN: In the context of the objective that was strongly flagged earlier of making the universities more sustainable financially, I assume that this implies that there will either be one registrar’s office or a reduction in the function of registrars’ offices.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Unfortunately, Mr. Epstein, your time has expired. Mr. Younger, you have 17 minutes.
MR. YOUNGER: You can answer that question if you want, because I’m actually interested in knowing the answer.
MS. CZAPALAY: That’s not part of the project, to look at those efficiencies in the actual registrar’s office; it’s mostly about making sure that Nova Scotian students stay in Nova Scotia, to make it very easy for them to remain in the province and to not only apply and receive their acceptance very quickly, but also to have the ability to move their transcripts electronically from their high school to the university.
MR. YOUNGER: Would that be like the Ontario universities - I assume Ontario still does this - where they used to have one portal for registration, class selection, and all that sort of thing?
MS. CZAPALAY: They have a portal for admissions, not for individual classes.
MR. YOUNGER: Okay. I never went to university in Ontario so I haven’t experienced it.
Do you track how many students are leaving Nova Scotia to go to other provinces? Obviously some always will, but do you track that at all?
MS. CZAPALAY: We do have those numbers. I don’t have them off the top of my head but we pay attention to the numbers that go to Newfoundland and Labrador, for example.
MR. YOUNGER: Actually that was one of the places I was thinking about is Newfoundland and Labrador or Quebec, places like that. You said you don’t have them here but it’s possible to get those, then?
MS. CZAPALAY: We can share those with you. The MPHEC noted that our Nova Scotians attending Nova Scotia universities declined but our overall undergrad enrolment went up by 1.9 per cent this year.
MR. YOUNGER: I’ll get the chairman to add that to the list of things he has there.
Mr. Epstein talked about mergers and affiliations to some extent. He touched on it when he was talking about the Mount issue. I know that one fell off the radar but there was also talk about - well, obviously the Nova Scotia Agricultural College became a school of Dalhousie - there was some talk about King’s, although they already have such an affiliation with Dal that I can’t see how they would have any savings by just changing the name. Obviously the big one that seems to circle is the NSCAD-Dal one which obviously has some potential issues, I would think, because NSCAD has an international branding around its name and its history as an independent art school, and a very important one at that.
Can you tell me, has there been any further discussion around mergers - sometimes “mergers” is a bad word - but affiliations and things like that?
MS. MCKENZIE: I’m going to turn it over to Ava and then come back to it.
MS. CZAPALAY: We’re actually meeting this afternoon with NSCAD. The province supported two studies for NSCAD to undertake. One was to look at affiliation with either Dalhousie or Saint Mary’s, and a lot of the up-front work that was done on that study was to clarify that what we’re talking about is, in fact, affiliation and not a merger.
You mentioned the University of King’s College example with Dalhousie, and we do see that as a very positive example of an affiliation that has worked really well. Both institutions maintain separate identities but King’s has the benefit of using many of the Dal services.
MR. YOUNGER: So if you went in that direction that would be more - and I know it’s just discussions at the moment, but that would be more the model you would be looking at. For the public, if they think about the King’s-Dal model, that would be more what is being considered.
MS. CZAPALAY: Affiliation is the model that we have under consideration, and both Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s are quite interested in the interesting and unique programming that could emerge from closer affiliation with NSCAD, for different reasons.
The other study that I wanted to mention that we’ve supported is a space utilization study and that’s looking at whether NSCAD needs all the space that it currently has at three campuses and is there a way to use that more efficiently. What is, in fact, the amount of space that NSCAD actually needs to offer the programs that it offers?
MS. MCKENZIE: Just two quick things: one is that the Premier has been unequivocal that there is every intention of this government to support and continue to support a vibrant fine arts university, Nova Scotia College of Art & Design; and secondly, the affiliation study is being led by the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, it’s not being led by the department. I thought perhaps you said - what was your intention? I just wanted to be clear that the college has led the affiliation study and has contracted the . . .
MR. YOUNGER: I appreciate that clarification. I think the province has the cheque book so I assume you get some say in what happens as well. Either way, I agree; it’s something I agree with the Premier on. To make NSCAD a school within another university just wouldn’t make sense. The affiliation, I think, could make some sense. Obviously it depends on how it is modelled. I think it’s the same thing that applies at King’s where King’s has a brand that is around this unique, small school, but they obviously have a very strong affiliation.
You said they’re talking to Saint Mary’s and Dal. Dal obviously has a larger graduate program and graduate offerings, and NSCAD offers a mix of graduate and undergraduate degree programs. Saint Mary’s obviously has some, but they’re primarily an undergraduate school. Is there any discussion around the pros and cons of if they are going to affiliate, which is the better model in terms of the course offerings and the program offerings?
MS. CZAPALAY: That’s going to be part of the discussion once the affiliation report is submitted. We haven’t had discussions about that, but I can say that there already is some collaboration among researchers between NSCAD and Dal, and NSCAD and Saint Mary’s.
MR. YOUNGER: Especially through the architecture school.
MS. CZAPALAY: Architecture or urban planning, even occupational therapy - some really interesting joint research.
MR. YOUNGER: Is there a point where a university gets too big? I think of Dal and they’re managing fine, but they’ve taken on the Agricultural College, which is obviously - I mean, I think everybody would say there are connections with the sciences and engineering and all that, so obviously it makes sense. You could make a case for almost anything, but is there a point where a university becomes too big?
MS. CZAPALAY: I was head of Admissions at Dal for 10 years and in charge of recruiting for Dal and travelled the world.
MR. YOUNGER: That’s where I know the name.
MS. CZAPALAY: Uh-oh, not from the Admissions side?
MR. YOUNGER: No, you were there when I was there.
MS. CZAPALAY: On a world scale, Dal is so small it’s unbelievable and . . .
MR. YOUNGER: No, I recognize that. I’m thinking in terms of - everything here is smaller, so our Department of Education is smaller than it is in other places too. I’m just wondering, is there a point where - because we’re talking about efficiencies and where do you save operating costs. The interesting thing, if you look at the Fountain donation, one of the things that came in advance of that was a vote of the Theatre Department and the Music Department to merge and form the School of Performing Arts. On the one hand they’ll have costs and on the other hand they might actually achieve some operational efficiencies, at least on the administrative side.
I’m just wondering, all of a sudden they have to manage a campus that’s in Truro. When I went to Dal, it was TUNS and they were independent. Then it became DalTech and then it became the Dalhousie Faculty of Engineering. There was Henson College, which now is the Dalhousie College of Continuing Education. I’m just wondering, is there a point that anybody is concerned that you lose the efficiencies because you’re managing - like for example, I know they’re not going to take NSCAD as a school - but if they were to take on other things like that, is there a point where they become too large that you lose those efficiencies?
MS. CZAPALAY: Our objective is to maintain 10 distinct universities in Nova Scotia. I guess ultimately what I was thinking as you were asking that is that students will be the judge. Dalhousie has to continue to offer a quality experience to those students, and it has to review its own internal operations on a regular basis to ensure it does that. I wanted to say that every opportunity for closer affiliation has to be considered on its own merits. We’re looking at the affiliation opportunity between Dal and NSCAD, or NSCAD and Saint Mary’s, just on their own merits and what that affiliation can bring.
MR. YOUNGER: Sort of changing - well, it’s related, I guess. The last budget that just went through the Legislature, or I guess technically in the previous budget, had a prepayment to Acadia and to NSCAD, and that was discussed in the Legislature, so we know the reasons why. There is no prepayment allowed for, or budgeted for at this point, according to the minister anyway, for this year to either of those two universities. What I want to understand is that the answer from the minister at the time as to why those prepayments were done was because of the cash-flow cycle for those universities. I understand that. That makes sense.
Acadia manages their cash flow so they need a cheque in February, or March 1st, or whatever the date was, and they can’t wait until April 30th. That would strike me as being an annual issue for them, unless they are going to change - now, NSCAD’s may have been slightly different, so I’m thinking Acadia. If their cash flow issue and their management is that way on an annual basis, and nobody has said to them, by the way, we need you to change by next year, then that strikes me that they’re going to be coming in February and asking for their prepayment again, which the minister said is not in the budget. So I’m just trying to understand, has anybody had a conversation with them to talk?
MS. MCKENZIE: I talk to the universities weekly and . . .
MR. YOUNGER: Oh, I’m sure you do. I meant on this issue, I’m sorry.
MS. MCKENZIE: Yes, we are in conversation on a regular basis about their finances, and that type of thing. I’m not pre-anticipating what the end of the year will look like, we’re working through.
MR. YOUNGER: But you understand my concern is that in the answer the minister gave, which was a perfectly reasonable answer from my perspective, was that, well listen, they need the cash every February, but then it raised the second question - I think the end of February, beginning of March, whenever it was - that raised the next question, which was, well yes but then she went on to say that, well they hadn’t budgeted for it, they hadn’t budgeted for it this year, so that presupposes that they will change their budgeting process this year, or their cash-flow process.
MS. MCKENZIE: I guess all I can say is that we’re continuing to work with the universities. It’s the objective of the memorandum of understanding to work toward sustainability, and NSCAD actually is working its way through reducing what that deficit is, and they’re on target.
MR. YOUNGER: Okay. Yes, and NSCAD, I think, is probably in a slightly different situation because they have sort of been the focus, and I understand earlier you were saying that Acadia is one of the ones that has the debt issue, but at this point you’re still trying to work towards trying to shift things for them. Okay.
The cap on tuition is at 3 per cent, which matched the cut only applied to undergraduate programs, is that correct - undergraduate programs for domestic students, I guess?
MS. MCKENZIE: Yes.
MR. YOUNGER: So have you tracked the increases over those years, in professional programs or graduate programs or any of those because I know some of those increased? Some of them may have been less than 3 per cent, but some of them increased by more than 3 per cent.
MS. CZAPALAY: We have those numbers. I don’t have them off the top of my head.
MR. YOUNGER: Okay, we can get those.
MS. CZAPALAY: We can get those for you.
MR. YOUNGER: All right, that’s fine. We had written a letter on April 30th - which I can table but I’m sure you’ve seen it - regarding NSCAD funding, and this gets back to this affiliation issue, and the concern they had expressed to our caucus about a pressure on them to merge. I just wanted to clarify because we haven’t received a response to that letter that we wrote on behalf of NSCAD. Can I take it from your response earlier that there is no interest in seeing them merge with anybody?
MS. CZAPALAY: I saw your letter the other day. The response to your letter is en route. I think you asked 12 questions or so, quite a few questions.
MR. YOUNGER: It might have been, I didn’t write the letter.
MS. CZAPALAY: Anyway, all the questions have been diligently responded to and you should receive those answers shortly. We emphasized in the letter that what we’re discussing is affiliation and not merger.
MR. YOUNGER: Thank you, I appreciate that. I’ll table it just in case anybody else wants to see it. How long do I have left?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have three minutes.
MR. YOUNGER: Okay, I just want to talk very briefly about research since my colleague, the member for Inverness had raised that issue. One of the issues that I’ve noticed over the years is many of the universities have an office of commercialization, which makes a lot of sense because, obviously, there’s no point in inventing something or coming up with something if you don’t then commercialize it. One of the problems we’ve had is having Nova Scotia companies do the commercialization, and often it has gone to the United States, which means the economic benefit from that research doesn’t result here. Obviously there’s a benefit because there’s money going into the university in research, but it hasn’t turned into economic opportunity and jobs and companies moving ahead here.
Is there anything being done to try to work with Nova Scotia companies or companies with Nova Scotia offices so that the benefits of those patents and that can be felt here in Nova Scotia?
MS. CZAPALAY: We have a two-pronged response for you. One deals with personnel because you touched on a really important issue that a lot of our intellectual capital goes south. One of the things we have done is partnered with Mitacs. It doesn’t actually mean anything anymore. Initially it was a mathematical association across Canada. It funds promising graduate students and post-doctoral students to work with industry, to commercialize research in Canada.
Mitacs was telling me that when they started the organization - it was started by a professor at UBC but it’s now a national organization, the federal government supports it quite heavily - 70 per cent of Ph.D. students were graduating and going to work in industry in the United States in commercialized research there. Now that number is reversed, they are staying here. Nova Scotia has supported our Postdoctoral Fellows to work with industry here. Most recently we’ve supported Mitacs with a $200,000 grant that will fund two post-doctoral students to do their research here in Nova Scotia, with industry.
The deputy wants to add to that but I just wanted to touch on the - it’s so important to try to keep our highly qualified researchers here in Nova Scotia to work in industry.
MR. YOUNGER: It’s not just the people, I’m thinking of the value we get out of the patents that are created and so forth.
MS. CZAPALAY: I think the deputy is going to handle that part.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. McKenzie, you have only about 20 seconds.
MS. MCKENZIE: The Productivity and Innovation Vouchers, I would encourage you to take a look at them.
MR. YOUNGER: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacMaster.
MR. MACMASTER: Just following up, we were talking before, on the cost side, 80 per cent is faculty, for most universities, 80 per cent of their costs, roughly. Have we ever looked at increasing the number of teachable hours in the classroom? I’ll just present a scenario for you and it might seem a bit extreme at first, so I’ll ramp it back down to something maybe more reasonable.
Right now I believe a full course load is three courses the first half of the year and two courses the second half of the year, so that’s a total of about 15 hours of teaching. I know they’re doing all kinds of other activities, preparing for classroom activity and, of course, marking of exams and papers and whatnot, but if you increased that to four full courses the first half of the year and four full courses the second half of the year, you’d have an increase of 60 per cent productivity, you’d have a 40 per cent savings on 80 per cent of your costs, which would lead to a 32 per cent savings in tuition, which is quite significant.
Supposing that was too extreme and you wanted to go with just a quarter of that improvement, you would have an 8 per cent cost saving. Do you ever look at specific examples like that and talk to the universities about maybe asking for an increase in productivity to get a resultant saving in tuition? If students knew next year they were going to get an 8 per cent tuition reduction, they’d be pretty happy and so would their parents. I’ll let you comment.
MS. CZAPALAY: A couple of points to respond to your question. A couple of weeks ago, we brought in some guest speakers to speak to the university presidents about the future of post-secondary education, both in Canada and globally. One representative was from the Education Advisory Board in Washington, D.C. and the other was from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. Both very experienced and brought in all over the world to comment on what’s happening in higher education.
At a very high level, definitely efficiencies within the system were discussed and the points that you raised - how to structure faculty’s engagement with students, and also with research was raised. But we haven’t gotten into the details of that kind of consideration here in Nova Scotia.
The second part is that it’s really subject to the collective agreements of the individual institutions and so the government has not waded into that part at all.
MR. MACMASTER: I know one of the other points that would come back is, if you had that happening in one province and not other places you might end up losing some of your talent at the universities. I also think that could even itself out because we know there are people that go to Newfoundland now because apparently Memorial is quite a bit cheaper to go to school there. I think the economics of it might settle and even that out over time so that wouldn’t be so much of an issue.
I thought I would raise the point, it’s good to hear that you’re talking about it anyway. I think we have to keep open minds. What do they say, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again? We often hear from students about how expensive university is and how they would like it to be more affordable so if we’re going to try to make it more affordable, I think it makes sense that we start to actually look at ideas that make a concrete difference in making it affordable. That’s why I raise it.
In the first round I was asking some questions about the other 20 per cent costs - mostly the shared services, ideas and ways you look to try to reduce costs that are permanent reductions in cost. You had mentioned IT sharing, universities moving to natural gas because it’s a cheaper source of energy than Nova Scotia Power right now. Are there other shared service programs that universities are looking at to find ways to save costs there?
MS. CZAPALAY: The library, as well, we highlighted and the application portal, the transfer credit portal, sort of back-office types of operations.
Also looking at shared services and equipment, so for example, NSCAD put forward a proposal that was supported to partner with Dal, Saint Mary’s and the Mount to develop a rapid prototyping facility where they can use 3-D printers and other equipment to offer support to both researchers within the university system but also in industry.
We saw some creative thinking come forward that we welcomed. Some of the projects perhaps weren’t as innovative as you might want, but you have to start somewhere. I preferred some of these proposals - they started at a very practical level so we could see that they were heading in the right direction: take costs out of the system, perhaps generate some revenue, and combine operations with other institutions to offer a quality service.
MR. MACMASTER: That’s good. Practical is good - usually it means results.
MS. CZAPALAY: That’s what we’re hoping.
MS. MCKENZIE: I just wanted to add, I do think it’s important that we look at the practical and I do think it’s important that we look at - you know, there have been conversations around rinks, how we can share in that case, and there have been conversations with respect to the new U4 that has just been announced where Acadia and St. F.X. will work with other universities in terms of marketing and those types of things.
I didn’t get a chance to read the carefully prepared speech that had been done for me, but I would just like to bring one thing to the fore. Our competition is not Newfoundland - Newfoundland students are actually coming to Nova Scotia. Students choose to go where they want to be educated. What is really interesting and I think I’d like just to flag is that The Times, which is an international education metric for post-secondary education, has just had two Chinese universities move into the top 100. There is a university or a community college being built in China every month and there is the intention to have an enrolment of 40 million students there by 2020. That will be attracting faculty out of our systems and into universities internationally.
When we sit down and have conversations about where we’re going with post-secondary education that’s the landscape that we’re trying to have the conversation in. It’s not really Atlantic Canada or how we’re competitive with those types of things, but how can this post-secondary education system come together?
It’s wonderful that we’re having conversations around portals and electronic transcripts and those types of things. Many of the countries would expect these would be - this is something we have to do, but we also need to be looking at how our 10 universities can be competitive in an international landscape that is changing dramatically? That is everything from how people are creatively - I’m reading every day in terms of what people are doing in terms of faculty in the States - what does tenure look like into the future, and those types of things. They are creative and being led by faculty in terms of what those discussions look like.
It’s partly we need to get the nuts and bolts of our universities organized, but we also need to get our heads up and look at how our system fares in an international setting, and what we can do to make sure that we’re as competitive as we can possibly can be and provide high-quality education to students that will come to pay for the quality. I just want to make sure that we’re thinking about that in that context as well.
MR. MACMASTER: I appreciate your comments. Actually that doesn’t scare me and I don’t see the quality of education going down. Maybe I don’t have the expertise to make that statement and I don’t think maybe that’s necessarily what you were saying, but I think it’s actually an opportunity, if there are people that leave Nova Scotia to go to China, there are plenty of smart people to step into their positions in Nova Scotia universities. Hopefully we’re building an economy here with lower taxes and less wasteful spending and whatnot, to encourage people to want to stay in the province because we obviously have many things that we enjoy about the provinces - what keeps us here to begin with.
I guess if there’s one thing that’s constant it’s change, and universities are experiencing that just like everybody else. Have universities looked at combining some programing? Is that something’s that’s discussed?
MS. CZAPALAY: They historically have. What sprang to mind is international development studies and Women Studies; Dal, Saint Mary’s, and the Mount shared some of the those programs. I think where it makes sense to do that, the universities are absolutely open to that and have had those ongoing discussions. With the transfer credit portal project where we’re starting off with the summer school initiative, one of the aspects of that is to not duplicate summer school offerings unless geographically it makes sense. For example, the ideas that if they’re offering an intro economics course in metro Halifax through a summer school program that all three can’t - Dal, Saint Mary’s, and the Mount - won’t all offer it, that there will be some discussion about who’s going to offer what. That kind of collaboration is definitely happening.
MR. MACMASTER: You mentioned a couple of courses there where it sort of made sense to do that, can you give a little more background on why it has worked well for those courses?
MS. CZAPALAY: I can use my own example where I did a Bachelor of Education in English and Social Studies and took courses at Dal, the Mount, and Saint Mary’s. What you do is end up getting the best of all worlds. It was not an issue at all for me to make my way to any of those three universities in the course of my studies and if it meant getting an excellent professor with all the supports and background that I wanted, it didn’t matter that I go 10 minutes out of my way to get that. I think that students have found that - and that goes back to my original kind of “à la carte” comment, that if we can collectively enable students to put together programming that meets their needs and their interests, by utilizing what we see as a huge pool of opportunity in Nova Scotia, but especially in the metro area, with all the offerings that we have, they should be able to do that.
MR. MACMASTER: Sure, and it certainly works in metro here because you have universities that are physically close together. Have you seen examples of them combining courses with universities that are further apart, maybe distance learning? I don’t know if that’s as effective.
MS. CZAPALAY: Acadia and the Mount, for instance, I know through their education program they often have students going back and forth. CBU is talking to Dal, for instance, on how they can collaborate. (Interruption) The deputy just mentioned they have a memorandum of understanding between Dal and CBU to collaborate on some course programming.
MR. MACMASTER: Switching gears here a little bit, within the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, how much collaboration happens between Labour and Advanced Education?
MS. MCKENZIE: A great deal. Is there something specific that you’re wondering about?
MR. MACMASTER: Are there any programs that you work together on? Could you give us a little background on that, if there are?
MS. MCKENZIE: When you’re speaking about Labour, are you talking about Occupational Health and Safety, Technical Safety, and the Labour Standards?
MR. MACMASTER: I’m thinking even broader than that, like anything that’s happening in the Labour side of the department.
MS. MCKENZIE: Like the Workforce Development side?
MR. MACMASTER: Yes.
MS. MCKENZIE: You may want to speak to that but we have regular meetings where we’re looking at actually putting a plan together. We have the workforce strategy which identifies - and the government has put forward - which supports jobsHere. Within the workforce strategy we have three primary areas that we’re looking at. One looks at how we can do education and training in the workplace, so that is often provided by the Nova Scotia Community College, but into the future, could be provided by universities, particularly if it’s around professional positions.
The second is to grow the population in terms of immigration, repatriation, and attraction, in terms of people staying. The other is around career and workforce attachment in terms of supporting people in the growth sectors. Obviously the post-secondary education system would be a big part of how we’re going to be able to achieve those goals in the workforce strategy.
We have regular meetings and regular conversations, and Ava can speak to that.
MS. CZAPALAY: I work quite closely with the Nova Scotia Community College. Some interesting things are happening with NSCC. I just wanted to mention a practical example. You’ll recall the IBM announcement where they were opening a big data centre here, part of that announcement was that IBM also requires workers and they require workers who have education and background in analytics. NSCC is leading a discussion with the universities, six universities plus NSCC, on how to prepare students in Nova Scotia to access these jobs, and to graduate qualified and able to take these jobs.
I really like what I’m seeing in terms of industry and NSCC and the universities all engaging collectively to come up with solutions for Nova Scotians.
MS. MCKENZIE: Just one other quick point. The province supports the Nova Scotia School for Adult Learning and within that 4,500 adults are currently involved in upgrading, annually. About 50 per cent of those are less than 29 years of age and 25 per cent of them are less than 25 years of age. Those are the places where young people who may not have gotten the opportunity to finish high school are on-ramping into upgrading. They achieve their high school diploma and they’re able to access both the Nova Scotia Community College and the university from there. That is a great example where our workforce side is working with our post-secondary side to make sure that Nova Scotians have opportunities.
MR. MACMASTER: I don’t know if you’ll know the answer to this question right off but for university-educated students, are the numbers of jobs available to them increasing or decreasing within our Nova Scotia economy?
MS. MCKENZIE: This is an interesting point that you raise. Last night Ava and I both met with the student associations and we talked about this very thing in terms of how young people are feeling whether or not they have opportunities to attach. It’s very interesting that Nova Scotia businesses, and in some ways the provincial government, have attached - it’s not just a university degree - but we’ve attached additional requirements of two to four years of experience. It’s not uncommon in the private sector as well.
That is something that we need to seriously take a look at. If we were to say, let’s aggressively attach as many young people as we can, we would look at whether or not you really need those two to four years’ experience and whether or not it’s not better to actually on-ramp them and provide the training. We have other ways of supporting training in the businesses. Are there opportunities? There are but they’re going away to get the experience and then we have to work to get them to come home.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Unfortunately, Mr. MacMaster’s time has expired. Mr. Epstein.
MR. EPSTEIN: Before I ask some questions, I wondered if I might just pass some remarks with respect to some of the questioning from the member for Inverness that had to do with the suggestion of increased course load for full-time faculty members. I have to say that my knowledge of this suggests to me very strongly that the full-time faculty members are appropriately loaded, inside the universities, with teaching responsibilities. Although of course you could always argue in one or two individual cases - and the universities grapple with this as their administrations do, as any managers will - but that’s not the essence of what the universities have done or really probably could do.
What they have done, the universities, in grappling with their funding problems has been to turn increasingly to part-timers. It has now been very common for all universities, including in Nova Scotia, that courses are taught by part-timers, which is a significant problem in many institutions. It’s a problem because they are paid so little that the time they can put into teaching a course is something that perhaps doesn’t afford the students as much depth as they probably deserve.
I say this as a part-time faculty member myself. I have many years of experience of doing this and I know that at many of our universities, unfortunately, a huge number of courses are now taught by part-timers, somewhat to the detriment of the overall quality of the institutions.
I would now like to move to my questioning. When I was talking before with you about efficiencies that have been achieved inside the university system, one of the ones I had in mind, as well, was the existence of the MPHEC, the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission. This is also something that has been worked out many decades since and is involved in the coordination of programs amongst the universities. So I’m just wondering, can you give us a brief overview of what the MPHEC does?
MS. CZAPALAY: This will test me in front of my boss, so thank you for that question.
The MPHEC does coordinate programming requests. It doesn’t necessarily make decisions on the requests. Sometimes they’re referred back to the provinces for the ultimate decision but we do deal with a lot of programming issues. The essence there is to avoid duplication of new programs.
Also, the MPHEC provides quite a significant service to the provinces in terms of collecting data, analyzing data, and writing reports as it relates to the data. For example, they just issued a study on - I forget the exact title of the study - it was on some quality measures of the higher education system in the Maritimes.
MR. EPSTEIN: Yes, the MPHEC is a good source of information and research about the post-secondary education system. What I had in mind really was the coordination of programs. Am I right in understanding that although the universities will have statutory authority to create degree-granting programs by virtue of being universities, the general arrangement is that programs won’t be funded by government unless they go through the MPHEC review process, which is designed to minimize duplication and overlap. Isn’t that the essence of it?
MS. CZAPALAY: You’re correct. The other element to that is that they won’t be recognized for student assistance funding and that kind of thing.
MR. EPSTEIN: Right. So there’s a strong element of de facto coordination that goes on through the MPHEC.
I wanted to follow up on the idea of mergers and affiliations, as well, and I wonder if we could just bring ourselves up to date about this. There was passing reference to the Nova Scotia Agricultural College - it was an independent entity but is now fully integrated into Dalhousie. That’s the situation there, is that correct? We passed legislation about this.
MS. CZAPALAY: It’s fully integrated.
MS. MCKENZIE: In terms of it being an independent institution, it was part of a government department.
MR. EPSTEIN: It was part of a government department, that’s right, but it very much operated as if it were a research institution, and teaching institution as well.
What about the Atlantic School of Theology? Can you just bring us up to date about the Atlantic School of Theology? I’m afraid I’ve lost track of what has gone on with that.
MS. CZAPALAY: In regard to its affiliation with other institutions?
MR. EPSTEIN: Exactly.
MS. CZAPALAY: It has a close working relationship with Saint Mary’s University. In fact, one of the projects that I talked about - the shared services projects through the Research and Innovation Fund, it has a small amount of funding to look at how it might engage in more shared services with Saint Mary’s, so that’s anything from common admissions to shared libraries to shared registration. It’s exploring a number of ways that it might realize some efficiencies by working more closely with Saint Mary’s. No talk of merger at all but more affiliation of shared services.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, that’s what I wondered. I had lost track of it. I wasn’t aware of a full merger but I was certainly aware that it was coming more into the orbit of Saint Mary’s.
There have been a few references to the MOU that exists between the government and the universities. I think we’re in the midst now of our third, that is the third MOU that the governments have had with the universities. When does the current MOU expire?
MS. CZAPALAY: In 2015-16. We just started our second year.
MR. EPSTEIN: Can you tell me when there will be a renegotiation of the bins? My understanding is that “bins” is the terms used to describe the relative weighting of the university programs for funding purposes. This is an allocation formula - that is, a distribution formula - not a formula that generates absolute dollars but has to do with the allocation amongst the different programs. Renegotiation of the bins has not taken place in some time, I think. If you remember the last time it took place, perhaps you could tell us. But in any event, when will it next take place?
MS. CZAPALAY: You’re completely correct in that the bin weights are assigned to different programs and it relates to the allocation of the funding, as opposed to anything else. We were speaking with some of the university presidents last night. There’s no push from their end to reopen the bins and examine them. It’s a huge task, obviously.
There are one or two areas of interest in looking at the bins but it’s like a collective agreement - you can’t open one or two bins without re-examining all of them and there’s no push from the universities to do that.
MR. EPSTEIN: I think a complaint that there’s under-weighting has come from NSCAD about its bins. Has that not been part of the dialogue back and forth?
MS. CZAPALAY: I believe they’re also over-weighted on one other element. I can get that exact detail but it’s offset by another bin that over-compensates.
MR. EPSTEIN: Can you give us examples of the relative weightings of different programs under the system?
MS. MCKENZIE: We can get you the detail but I’m going to give you my limited understanding. At the time the bin weights were set, there was a recognition that a higher weight was put on a studio for NSCAD.
MR. EPSTEIN: I wasn’t actually just asking about NSCAD. I meant to illustrate how the bin system works throughout the university system.
MS. MCKENZIE: We’re going to have to get you more information.
MS. CZAPALAY: We’ll have to get you that - sorry. It’s quite detailed and we don’t have it with us.
MR. EPSTEIN: Yes, but they’re in multiples of each other so, for example, I think the medical school is a much higher weighted per-student bin than an undergraduate program in history, for example.
MS. CZAPALAY: It ranges from Bachelor of Arts to medicine and you’re right, that’s the spectrum of the bin weights.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, thanks.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Epstein, I believe Mr. Skabar has a few questions.
MR. EPSTEIN: How many more minutes do we have in this?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have until 10:53 a.m., so not a lot of time left.
MR. EPSTEIN: I just have a couple of other questions then I’ll pass it to my colleague. There was some talk about the prospect of employment by graduates. This certainly seems to be part of the point about looking at the university system and thinking about it in the context of what goes on at the community colleges and the prospects. Am I right in thinking that the lifetime earnings of university graduates are still very significantly higher than those of people who have either high school education only or have community college qualifications only, is that correct?
MS. MCKENZIE: You’re correct, university and higher do have higher lifetime earnings. There have been a lot of recent articles about the difficulty, even for students with universities degrees, to attach to the labour market. They may be finding themselves underemployed in a variety of different things. That is a phenomenon that we’re paying attention to. Overall, any statistical report would tell you that you’re better off if you graduate from university.
MR. EPSTEIN: Yes, in fact I saw statistics but they were for the U.S. that university graduates fared much better in the recession in terms of employment than those who did not have university degrees. Did you see statistics like that or are you aware of them for Canada?
MS. MCKENZIE: We can get them for you for - well, I’ll have to look to see if we have them for Canada. But in addition there is a - I’ll get you the statistics.
MR. EPSTEIN: That’s fine, thank you. I’ll turn it over to my colleague, Mr. Skabar, from Cumberland North.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Skabar.
MR. BRIAN SKABAR: There were a number of things but I’ll just skip right through them quickly. A short time ago we were speaking about the requirement of many employers for two years of experience after graduation. My thoughts on that initially were, well, that’s fine as long as you have a sufficient cadre of qualified people who do have two years of experience. When the time comes that there are not any more, well then what? Are we revisiting that and who are we, is it the public service, private industry, is everyone looking for that, and is that an issue?
MS. MCKENZIE: Absolutely, it is an issue that we may be asking for experiences that are not required. I can tell you that everyone from the public service, so currently we’re looking at what our requirements are for engineers, for instance, in Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, through to the City of Halifax who just recently announced that they are clearing and creating spaces for 30 new interns to make sure that people have the opportunity to on-board with employers, through to the private sector where I’ve heard a number of different organizations throw out the challenge to their membership, including Andrew Boswell, who just came in through the chamber of commerce, who threw out a challenge at the dinner to say, hire a young person, challenging people to go back and look at the requirements that they’ve put in place, see if they really need them, if there are things that they can do that can support people to be hired.
MR. SKABAR: The thing is where are they going to get the experience if every job requires experience?
MS. MCKENZIE: That is, I think, the point. It doesn’t necessarily require experience. For instance when I go to hire a junior researcher, it requires two to four years’ experience. I believe that we could hire Masters in Public Administration students and I trust that they could come in and start in those junior-level positions. So we’re having conversations with the Public Service Commission about what those opportunities are.
In addition the government has introduced the START program, which is an incentive program that allows young people to be hired, through incentives to employers, to give them that crucial first experience, so we’re trying to come at it from a number of different angles.
MR. SKABAR: I have a couple of circumstances of which I’m aware that a graduate in psychology is trying to get their Masters in Counselling. I could sort of understand why they would look at requiring a couple of years of field experience, like dealing with target populations, before being accepted into a master’s degree. Again, that resonates, I can understand that, but in terms of nursing, for example, it’s something that is taught in the curriculum, so does that count towards years of experience?
MS. MCKENZIE: I would say that the challenge hasn’t necessarily been for nursing because that is a profession where you’re moving directly into the workforce and we have a demand for nurses. It’s more along the lines of positions like if you graduate with a B.Com. or those types of things, what can we do through - this government has tripled the number of co-ops and internships that are available, which give students that crucial experience that they’re going to need to start to build their resumé.
They’re more with a B.Com., a Bachelor of Arts, the students who are graduating, they would like to attach to the labour force to get that first experience. We’re looking for creative ways and putting challenges out to encourage people to hire young people.
MR. SKABAR: Is that part of the thought process from at least some of the universities to accepting the first two years of community college as a credit towards a university degree? I’m thinking about accounting courses or, if I understand correctly, there’s at least some dialogue between two years of LPN training being applied towards a nursing degree at St. F.X.
MS. MCKENZIE: I’m not familiar with that particular one but I am familiar with the business diploma being recognized at Saint Mary’s and at Mount Saint Vincent to moving towards the B.Com. We have a number of articulated programs. Tourism would be one from the community college into Mount Saint Vincent. There are a number of those articulation programs that are being put in place. I’m quite enthusiastic about them. That’s a great opportunity for people to either leave with a diploma and work for a little while, or move straight into getting a degree.
MR. SKABAR: From a practical experience perspective, as well, for a number of years I was a professional social worker but moved quickly into social work administration. When I was hiring, depending on the job, I would be looking for someone with a human services diploma, frankly, before a university degree because I knew those people actually dealt with clients. They had more - well, two years of experience, basically.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Unfortunately your time has expired. I will give the deputy an opportunity to make some wrap-up comments.
MS. MCKENZIE: I guess I’ll wrap up by starting at the beginning and apologizing for not being here on time. I appreciate the depth and the quality of the questions that we’ve had today. I appreciate that Laurie joined us, she is our financial wizard from the department, and that Ava was able to field so many of the questions so well. So thank you very much.
This is a conversation that we’ll be having well into the future, I anticipate. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, it was very informative today. Just one thing, I understand there will be an out-of-town caucus on June 5th, is that correct? I would suggest that possibly you could move the June 5th meeting into September, if that’s agreeable with everybody?
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Agreed. (Interruption)
MR. CHAIRMAN: It’s the NDP caucus that will be out of town.
MR. MACMASTER: When was the meeting?
MR. CHAIRMAN: It was the June 5th meeting.
MR. MACMASTER: I was just trying to remember what the topic was for June 5th.
MRS. DARLENE HENRY (Legislative Committee Clerk): It was Job Creation and Activity.
MR. MACMASTER: Okay, that’s fine.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Our next meeting will be the Auditor General, in camera, on May 22nd. If there is no other business, a motion to adjourn is in order.
MR. EPSTEIN: So moved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Epstein. We stand adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 10:54 p.m.]