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Beyond the Program Prioritization Process

Monday, October 14, 2013

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Written by Alice Lin

On Thursday October 10th, an open community forum was held in Peter Clark Hall regarding the University’s Program Prioritization Process (PPP) that was released earlier this month. The intent of the assembly was to provide an opportunity for students, staff, and faculty to learn more about the PPP and to ask questions.

Upon the release of the PPP the previous week, a lot of concerned remarks and comments regarding the results of the report have been expressed via various social media outlets. At the meeting, President Alastair Summerlee addressed some of those concerns that were raised. He emphasized that reason for the projected funding gap has to do with the Provincial Government’s changes to the budget and expected decrease in funding for the institution. Additionally, the state of the University’s financial reserve is also shrinking fast and there simply just is not have enough to balance the budget in the upcoming years. Surely, the University must use what’s left to maximize and create change for the future of the University in a positive direction.

Furthermore, the government is also encouraging the differentiation of universities. “The government is asking why [institutions] would offer, for example, English, at every university” said Summerlee. In the past, governments have based their funding budgets for Universities solely based on enrolment numbers. However, that process is beginning to change and is shifting towards “…a performance based evidence to allocate funds”.

Summerlee stressed that the PPP is by no means, a decision making report. Programs and services (academic and non-academic) ranked in the fourth or fifth quintile does not mean that they will be eliminated. “Cutting is not the only thing we’ll be doing. [We also] will look at things that are under-resourced and need to be protected” said Summerlee, “to do this, we need to provide evidence and metrics, and this is why we are engaged in the PPP.”

Dr. Maureen Mancuso, the University’s Provost and Vice President of Academic, echoed Summerlee’s address and explained that the PPP is an assessment tool that was implemented in the University’s integrated planning procedure. “[We] need to be able to make decisions based on evidence and metrics, not solely on intuition and hunches” Mancuso said. The PPP’s outcome certainly is not suggesting only elimination as the only option to overcome the projected funding gap. In fact, we may actually be seeing the expansion, restructuring and even the addition of different programs and services at the University.

In the PPP report, the taskforce committee addressed that the process itself had not been perfect. Indeed, it is recognized that there were still some flaws in the execution of the process (see item number 5 of the report: https://www.uoguelph.ca/vpacademic/ppp/). John Miles, the University’s Assistant Vice President of Finance and Services, acknowledge that the PPP’s taskforce committee only looked at forms to base their judgements.

This was concerning as some of the smaller and younger programs who do not yet have the extensive evidence or metrics to fill in the forms ended up in Q5. Nevertheless, both Dr. Mancuso and Miles assured that the PPP is a repeatable process which will definitely need to incorporate more improvements. “[We can] repeat it, improve it, and get better at it” said Miles.

Concerns were about the corporatization of the University campuses were voiced. Julia Forster, the CSA Academic and University Affairs Commissioner asked…“As we’re seeing decreasing public funding, we’re also seeing an increase in tuition, private donations and partnerships. How will we ensure that our university remain a public institution as we look to private and corporate partners to meet budget targets as well as funding shortfalls?”

“Let me be very clear. The Senate, has distinct and specific policies about any money we bring in that is not from public funding,” Sumerlee responded. He stated that the University controls through senate whether or not such donations are accepted. Furthermore, the University has a $200 million campaign where $45 million that has come in are going towards student scholarships.

Another important concern was raised about those who were involved with the PPP committee. Members of the taskforce committee consisted of 14 faculty and five staff members. There were also two positions opened for students, where candidates had to be nominated then interviewed and subsequently hired on as interns. Chris Archibald, the CSA Communications and Corporate Affairs Commissioner, inquired about how the taskforce ensure that the hired students provided appropriate representation. “The University’s administration had no decision in deciding which students were going to be hired onto the taskforce” Summerlee responded, “we asked the bylaws to put forward a process. [They] made the decision about who would be a part of the process”.

In sum, everyone is afraid of cuts. Thus it is suggested, that the next steps following the PPP, is in working together to move forward. Many people are obviously affected by the results of the report and are perhaps even frustrated by it. Though instead of bashing the process, it is indeed, more beneficial to explore and look for opportunities to collaborate in deciding what the fate of a program or service. For example, the PPP recommended that more experiential learning opportunities for the International Development program. What might that look like? How could the department integrate this? What funding is required in order to do so effectively and in a way that International Development students can benefit from?

As students, our feedbacks as well as experiences are critical since our performance is ultimately the direct reflection and outcome of our program. Is there a course in your program that you feel is repetitive because there is another similar course that you have to take? Do you feel that you would benefit from the addition of a course specifically tailored to your program? These are valuable points that students should be bringing to the attention of their college deans, faculty and department heads as they develop a new budget in accordance to the projected funding gap.

Finally, if you’ve got a better idea and/or suggestion on how to improve student involvement in this process, it is highly encourage that you to share them. Given the fact that our University is working with limited resources, it is imperative that we move forward from the anger and conflict, towards more collaborative solutions.

For the full PPP report, login via your UoG central login: https://www.uoguelph.ca/vpacademic/ppp/

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