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Provost provides tuition reduction update

The following is an update from Interim Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Tom Harris to Queen’s faculty and staff regarding the Government of Ontario’s plan to cut tuition fees at post-secondary institutions.

Dear Colleagues,

As you know, the Government of Ontario is implementing a 10 per cent tuition reduction in 2019-20 and a tuition freeze in 2020-21 for domestic students in funding-eligible programs. The tuition reduction will affect fees in undergraduate and graduate programs across the university. As a result of these changes, Queen’s 2019-20 operating revenue will decrease by $31.4 million relative to projections made in December 2018. This decrease will be followed by another $7 million reduction next year, as tuition fees remain frozen in 2020-21. As the percentage of domestic students in funding-eligible programs varies across faculties and schools, the impact of the tuition cut is unevenly distributed across academic units.

Over the past several weeks, I have worked with the university’s leadership team to identify the best path forward for Queen’s. The decision-making process was guided by a set of principles developed in consultation with Principal Daniel Woolf to ensure we remain focused on our core academic mission of excellence in teaching, research, and service to our communities. The senior leadership team worked together to develop a strategy that was sustainable for our faculties, schools, and central service units, and to ensure that our response would minimize, as much as possible, the impact of the cuts on our faculty, staff, and students.

Principal Woolf has approved the following steps, to be taken in 2019-20, to offset the reduction in tuition revenue:

  • We will continue to advance our internationalization efforts by modestly expanding our international student recruitment targets. In the last two years, international student intake made-up between 10.4 and 11.5 per cent of first-year enrolment; our goal is to increase this to approximately 15 per cent in 2019-20. Carefully planned international enrolment growth has been a priority at Queen’s for several years, as outlined in our Strategic Framework (2014-19) and our Comprehensive International Plan (2015-19). Our international recruitment strategy has enabled small year-over-year increases since 2012 when international students comprised just 3 per cent of the incoming class. We have a broad range of transition and support services available to our international students, and we will assess what additional supports may be needed for our faculty, staff, and students as a result of the continued growth of our international student complement. As always, all applicants to Queen’s will be assessed against our usual admission standards.
  • Some undergraduate enrolment intake will be reallocated, resulting in a slight shift in enrolment from the Faculty of Arts and Science to the Smith School of Business, the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Faculty of Health Sciences.
  • Central services will forgo a previously planned base budget increase of 2 per cent. As a result, some central service activities may be impacted.
  • Where possible, units will draw-down a portion of their budget carry-forwards to help offset decreases in revenue. Allocations will also be made from the University Fund to support the academic units that are least able to respond to the revenue reduction.

By modestly expanding our international student recruitment targets and redistributing enrolment across faculties and schools, our projected revenue for 2019-20 will increase by 4 per cent over 2018-19. While our strategy to respond to the tuition cut will ensure that the 2019-20 operating budget is balanced (after the draw-down of reserves), the provincial government’s new tuition framework presents significant long-term financial challenges for the university.

Over the past several years, Queen’s has maintained a strong financial position, with year-over-year operating revenue increases exceeding 6 per cent in the last two years. This is reflected in the recent reaffirmation by DBRS of the university’s high bond rating. That said, the compounding effects of the tuition cut and subsequent freeze, combined with some uncertainty regarding the prospect of future enrolment growth under the next Strategic Mandate Agreement, will limit our previously planned increases in revenue. As a result, some of the university’s long-term strategic priorities may need to be scaled back unless alternative revenue sources are secured.  

The Deans, Vice-Principals, and Vice-Provosts are in the process of developing their portfolio budgets for 2019-20, and I anticipate that they will communicate any relevant details to their units once the Board of Trustees approves the university’s operating budget in May. The budget development process for 2020-21 will begin in summer 2019, and Principal-Designate Patrick Deane’s strategic priorities will influence long-term budget planning.

In addition to reducing tuition fees, the provincial government is implementing changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and the ancillary fee structure, allowing students to opt-out of some fees. Queen’s will work to help support students who may have their access to university affected by the OSAP changes, and the leadership team is working with the Alma Mater Society (AMS) and Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) to understand the impact of the new ancillary fee regulations.

Sincerely,

Professor Tom Harris

Interim Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic)