09 July 2013

“China is already so yesterday” #nlpoli

Memorial University’s dean of graduate studies wasn’t so keen on China as a source of students in February 2011.  In a post on her blog Postcards from the edge, Noreen Golfman wrote;

The point is that Memorial, if it is to play seriously in the realm of international recruitment, cannot afford merely to be part of the bandwagon. It has to get ahead of it. China is already so yesterday.

The academics even invented a word for the trend – surprise, surprise  - at universities to seek more and more of their student population from other countries.  They call it “internationalization”.

The motivation is simple:  money.  Golfman acknowledged that point up front in the same blog post.  The available pool of young people is getting smaller, thanks to the fact that birthrates are dropping off in the developed world.  As a result, universities have to go on a hunt for students to keep everything operating:

And, so, yes, the motivation has been, in the first instance, largely economic.

None of that is a surprise.  Nor would anyone be surprised to find that by November 2011, Golfman was in China on a student-hunting safari. She was back there again in 2012.

To be fair to Golfman, she repeated her earlier contention that China was passé as a source of students.  Memorial University wasn’t late to the game, though.  Rather Golfman argued that that being backward  - behind the curve, in Golfmanspeak - was actually forward.  There’s nothing like a good rationalization to go with all those commas and subordinate clauses.

What Golfman couldn’t rationalize is that the main reason she and her colleagues are off to all sorts of places overseas is that the university needs students and their fees to help keep things going.  Memorial University’s administration sees international students as so important to the institution’s future that they are working on a strategy to raise the university’s profile overseas and boost enrolment.  The university hired a consultant to help develop the plan. The university is also beefing up its academic supports for international students.  That includes improved English-as-a-second-language instruction that attracted pretty well all the 1,694 international students at Memorial.

The demographic crunch isn’t the only one affecting memorial University.  Students contribute less than 11% of the university’s annual income in 2011-2012,  according to the 2011-12 annual report.  The university’s total revenue in 2012 was $564 million.  Tuition and fees brought in $59.6 million, a half million more than the previous year.  Government transfers accounted for $402 million, or 71% of the university’s total income.

The tuition portion of Memorial’s revenue is down from 14% in 2009, incidentally.  The Canadian average that year was 20%.

TD economicsA 2010 study by TD Economics included a comparison of tuition (right) as a percentage of university revenue for each province over the course of 30 years (1977 to 2007).  Newfoundland and Labrador was tied with Quebec in 2007 at just under 20%. 

Today,  Memorial’s tuition as a share of the university’s income is where it hasn’t been since 1977, at just over 10%.  The university ran a deficit in each of the past couple of years.  The provincial government  - already covering more than 70% of Memorial’s operating costs - is facing near record deficits and carries a record gross public debt of $13 billion.

The provincial government needs a new university policy.  That’s where we’ll go on Wednesday, a day later than originally planned.