Presidential forum dished out hard facts

THE BROCK PRESS/Christy Mitchell

THE BROCK PRESS/Christy Mitchell

On Feb. 24, Brock University President, Jack Lightstone hosted a forum in Pond Inlet for students, staff and faculty. The meeting’s topics revolved around the influence of governmental policies on university operations, the state of post-secondary education in Ontario and the uncertainty of its future.

“The Ontario government is broke. That is probably the most significant factor right now,” said Lightstone. “When governments have no money to give out, they legislate or make policy, that’s how they remain active. Our government has been making policy at a furious rate with respect to the post secondary education sector.”

“The base government grant to the university has not been increased, at all, for about seven years. However, our costs have gone up every year for the past seven years and in the past two years, the government hasn’t increased our grant. Cumulatively, they have actually decreased the base grant by two per cent.”

Lightstone went on to articulate the expansive growth that the University has seen in the last 12 years, from the introduction of graduate programs to the state of the art on-campus academic facilities, and how critical government funding is to the future success of Brock.

“There is a growing stature attached to the University, and it’s in part due to our ability to attract students from outside of the Niagara region,” said Lightstone. “If you go back 15 years, 70 per cent of our students were from the Niagara region and 30 per cent from elsewhere. Now it has basically reversed.”

But where Brock has succeeded in attracting students from outside the region, Lightstone proposes that the 18-to-25-year-old demographic is entering a bust period, which will have a negative impact on the University as a whole. With a sharp decrease in incoming Ontario high school graduates, the market for post-secondary acceptances will become extremely competitive and attracting those students to Brock will be an issue. A one per cent decrease in enrolment can cost the school $1.8 million.

Brian Hutchings, Vice-president of Finance and Administration, discussed the financial landscape of the university, which after an average loss of $6.5 million a year since 2008, posted a surplus of $3.9 million in 2013/2014 year.
“We were borrowing for borrowing,” said Hutchings. “Most people realize that’s not a good situation to be in. Any organization, whether it be an academy, a business, an institution, a non-profit or for-profit, cannot continue to sustain $6.5 million losses, on average, every single year.”

Gary Libben, Vice-president of Research, discussed the importance of reputation within a university as a pillar of success. Infosearch 2014 ranked Brock among the top ten Canadian universities for growth, as well as having an 11 per cent increase in research intensity in the 2013/2014 year. Neil McCartney, Provost and Vice-president Academics, discussed intense government pressure to reshape the university structure, as well as how the shifting youth demography will influence the rebuilding of the Brock foundation.

Decreasing demographics of secondary school graduates and rigid government policy will play an increasingly determinant role in whether or not Brock will excel in the future market of higher education or go the way of the Dodo bird and Everest College.

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