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Financial Sustainability

Pension transition plan receives strong support

Members of the Queen’s University Pension Plan (QPP) have given their consent to move forward with the creation of a new jointly sponsored pension plan known as the University Pension Plan Ontario (UPP).

The results of Queen’s mail-in segment of the consent process were tabulated by a third-party, Mercer (Canada) Limited, which received consent ballots from non-represented members and objection ballots from inactive plan members over the past few months. The threshold required to achieve consent was two-thirds of active members indicating consent, and not more than one-third of inactive members filing their objection.

Combined with union consent provided on behalf of their members, both metrics were achieved. Consent thresholds were also met at the University of Toronto and University of Guelph, meaning consent was given to transition all of the universities’ existing pension plans into a single jointly sponsored pension plan, the UPP.

“Receiving the consent of our pension plan members is a major milestone and a critical step required by provincial regulators,” says Donna Janiec, Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration). “It brings Queen’s and the Ontario university sector one step closer to a new, sustainable defined benefit pension plan for the future.”

The process of informing the Queen’s Pension Plan members and navigating the consent process is the culmination of many months of collaboration, consultation, and hard work on behalf of numerous stakeholders at the three universities. At Queen’s, the administration, the Queen’s University Faculty Association (QUFA), the United Steelworkers (USW), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), and representatives of the non-unionized employees through the Ontario Association of Non-Unionized University Employees, all made efforts to support the UPP. The Retirees’ Association of Queen’s (RAQ) also helped in getting the message out to existing pensioners.

“Representatives from the university’s unions and the administration all worked hard to share information about the UPP across a multitude of communication channels in order to ensure people had the information they needed to make informed decisions about consenting to the change,” Janiec says. “We are truly grateful for everyone’s hard work.”

Moving to a jointly sponsored pension plan greatly helps the universities and ultimately their members; it eases some of the regulatory constraints faced by single-employer plans, mitigates risk, and creates a larger pool of money to invest for potentially better returns. It is an effort that is supported by the provincial government and is a model for some of Canada’s largest and most successful pension plans such as the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS).

The alternative, notes Janiec, was not status quo. A change was necessary if the Queen’s Pension Plan was to remain sustainable over the long term. And while achieving consent to proceed with the UPP is important, it is not the last step in the process.

The transfer of the existing pension plans into the UPP still involves several technical steps and additional approvals to proceed. The UPP is anticipated to be operational by July 1, 2021. It will be governed by both employers and plan members. Once established, other Ontario universities will have the option of joining.

For more information, please read the UPP Joint Communique or visit the UPP website at www.universitypension.ca

Campus Electricity Demand Reduction: Week of July 2

In order to reduce electricity costs and contribute to the sustainability of the province’s energy system, the university is once again participating in an electricity peak demand management program.

Due to increasing temperatures and humidity levels across the province, there are Electricity Demand Reductions forecast for July 3, 4 and 5. Attached is a notification bulletin detailing the forecast through July 6. A separate notification will be issued each of the next three mornings to either confirm or cancel the forecast reduction.

To learn more about the electricity peak demand reduction program, please visit the Queen’s Sustainability Office website. Those with questions may also contact Fixit at extension 77301 (internal), 613-533-6757 (external) or email.

University proposes new residence building for main campus

Visitors to the public information session were able to view a scale model, preliminary plans, and renderings of a student residence project which is being proposed to be built on university property along the west side of Albert Street. (University Communications)

Students may soon have a new residence building on Queen’s University’s main Kingston campus.  The project is in the early planning stages and still requires Board of Trustees approval to proceed.

Approximately 50 near-campus neighbours attended a public information session on Tuesday, June 25 to learn more about the project, which is being proposed to be built on university property along the west side of Albert Street, just south of Union Street across from Tindall Field. The site was identified for potential redevelopment in the university’s 2014Campus Master Plan. The size and location of the property made it the preferred location to allow for a roughly 300-bed, five-story complex that is complimentary with the surrounding neighbourhood.

The new residence is required to accommodate plans for modest enrollment growth as well as to provide a place to decant students from other residences as older buildings undergo renovations, such as the John Deutsch University Centre (JDUC) renovation, which, once it begins, will displace nearly 100 residential units. The new building will enable Queen’s to continue to meet its commitment to provide residential living to all first-year students while still accommodating some upper year students.

The project team is working closely with the city to ensure factors such as heritage elements, neighbourhood integration, and environmental stewardship are addressed in the plan. The university has also made efforts to reach out and inform the local community early.

“As a neighbor, it is important to share our concepts for this build with the local community as early in the process as possible,” said Donna Janiec, Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration). “It provides an opportunity for input as we are a ways off from finalizing plans- the Board will not review the proposal until after the fall term begins in September.”

There are currently five houses on the site and Queen’s is working with occupants to find alternate solutions.

While none of the buildings are currently designated as heritage sites, Janiec points out that the university is still planning to take a creative approach to preserve some of the unique look and feel of the area by retaining and incorporating two of the existing buildings into the design and to retaining the existing boulevard trees.

“As a leader promoting sustainability on campus and in the community, it is important that we strive for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification in all our new builds,” notes Janiec.

She also points out there will be no food service outlet in the residence, limiting the number of deliveries to the building.

The university’s Capital Assets and Finance Committee must still approve the business plan before the project can proceed to the Board of Trustees for approval, anticipated in September 2019.

If the plan is approved, construction is anticipated to start in the spring/summer of 2020.

Queen’s University and PSAC Local 901 ratify first collective agreement for Graduate Research Assistants

Queen’s University, and the Public Service Alliance of Canada and its Local 901 (Unit1) (“PSAC”), have successfully ratified a tentative agreement for a first collective agreement for graduate students employed as research assistants (“Graduate Research Assistants”). Read more

University, CUPE Locals 229, 254, and 1302 ratify collective agreements

The tentative collective agreements between Queen’s University and the three CUPE Locals (229, 254 and 1302) are now in effect. The ratification also included support for the University Pension Plan (UPP).  Read more

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)

Queen's University and CUPE Locals 229, 254 and 1302 reach tentative agreements

On March 27, 2019, the University and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Locals 229, 254 and 1302 reached tentative agreements to renew their respective collective agreements.

In addition, the parties also reached tentative agreements with respect to the proposed conversion and transfer of assets from the Queen’s Pension Plan to the University Pension Plan.

The agreements are subject to ratification by the parties.

The University values the contributions of its employees and is committed to the collective bargaining process.

 

Statement from Principal Woolf on federal budget

Government of Canada releases 2019 budget, which includes investment in work-integrated learning, internationalization.

Following Budget 2018’s investment in research and innovation, Budget 2019 is a welcome investment in skills training and talent development, which will help prepare Canadians for the jobs of the future.

Investments of note for the post-secondary sector include $114 million over five years, with $26.5 million per year ongoing, to create 500 more master’s level scholarship and 167 more three-year doctoral scholarship awards annually through the Canada Graduate Scholarship program. The budget also invests $147.9 million over five years, with $8 million per year ongoing to support the creation of new work/study abroad opportunities for Canadian students abroad, as well as to promote Canadian education internationally.

Also included in Budget 2019 were:

  • An expansion of parental leave coverage for students and postdoctoral fellows receiving tri-council funding from six to 12 months.
  • $25 million over 10 years to support the work of the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, headquartered here at Queen’s.
  • Reduction of both the fixed and floating interest rates for Canada Student Loans Program borrowers, and ending interest accumulation during the six-month grace period.
  • The creation of the Canada Training Benefit and Employment Insurance Training Support Benefit, to assist Canadians in re-skilling for the jobs of the future.
  • Expansion of work-integrated learning through direct investment, as well as partnerships with innovative businesses and the Business Higher Education Roundtable, to create 84,000 new student work placements across Canada by 2023–24, and reach 100 per cent attainment for WIL opportunities for interested students.

Queen’s plays a critical role in supporting economic prosperity by preparing graduates with the job-ready skills they need to compete and thrive in a changing labour market. We welcome the opportunity to engage with government on the development of targeted skills programming, and on the creation of new work-integrated learning opportunities. I look forward to hearing further details on the implementation of these and other Budget initiatives.

Queen’s will continue to encourage the government make further investments in fundamental research, recognizing both the basic scientific discoveries and applied skills training opportunities that university-generated research provides.

– Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Request for Proposals launched for Employee Benefit Plan

Queen’s has been working closely with the university’s benefits consultant and an external firm that specializes in procurement law to develop a Request for Proposals (RFP) for an employee benefits provider. The RFP is now open to bidders for a six-week period.

In late 2016, the university asked all benefit-eligible employees for feedback on their employee benefits as part of the plan review process, including on potential areas for improvement. Throughout 2018, the university worked with the Multi-Employee Group Employee Benefits Committee (MEGEBC) to explore possible changes to the design of the current benefit plan. The MEGEBC was comprised of participants from university employee groups.

The university, with the support of the MEGEBC, identified some meaningful changes to the current benefit plan design that are responsive to a number of suggested areas for feedback. Some highlights include introducing a pay-direct drug card, introducing coverage for services of a registered psychologist, and an increase to vision coverage.

“The improvements to the Employee Benefit Plan will support the physical and mental health of employees and their families moving forward,” says Donna Janiec, Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration).

The RFP was publicly posted on March 14 and will be open to bidders for a six-week period. Bid evaluation will follow including interviews with the top proponents. It is expected that the evaluation period will take a further six weeks. Once the successful proponent has been identified, an implementation timeline will be developed, including when and how the plan design changes will be added to existing coverage.

Find out more about the employee benefits review on the HR website. Employees can also send questions about the project to benefits.project@queensu.ca

Sharing a success story

[Nicole Fowler and Nicole Mundell]
A presentation created by Nicole Fowler and Nicki Mundell, about Queen's University's experience implementing a new electronic Procure to Pay system, was so popular that spend management company Jaggaer is now sharing it with clients around the world. (University Communications)

Since being introduced in May 2017, acQuire, Queen's electronic Procure to Pay system, has resulted in numerous improvements across the university including replacing the former manual, paper-based procurement and payment processes, increasing efficiencies and transparency, and reducing the carbon footprint.

Numerous private corporations and universities across North America have also introduced the software, created by spend management company Jaggaer, but Queen’s has quickly become a leading implementer of the software’s eProcurement, Accounts Payable and Supplier Management modules, particularly within the post-secondary education sector.

As a result, the Queen’s acQuire team was recently invited to make a presentation at a conference held at the Jaggaer company’s headquarters in North Carolina. The presentation, detailing the implementation process and successes, went so well that the Queen’s team was invited to create a webcast with the company’s media firm to help other program users around the world.

For Nicole Fowler and Nicki Mundell, who head up the acQuire team at Queen’s, the experience and positive response has been a pleasant surprise.

“It went really well. There were a lot of comments and feedback and we actually had a lot of people (current and prospective customers) wanting to exchange contacts with us,” says Fowler, Manager, Senior Procurement, acQuire and Accounts Payable. “Then we got a call from Jaggaer saying that people were still talking about the presentation. After we said we were getting calls as well they said they weren’t talking about clients but Jaggaer’s own development team. I think this shows that Queen’s is really leading in this space.”

Since the presentation and webcast the Queen’s Procurement team has received a number of contacts and several Ontario universities have scheduled visits to see first-hand how Queen’s has implemented, and continues to improve, the system. A network of users is being created that is beneficial for all, including Queen’s, now and in the long term.

“We now have networked to a greater group of people who will help us make this tool just that much better,” Fowler says. “We want to make sure that we are not standing still, and instead look for what we can do to keep making this better, whether it is the user experience or the information we can get out of the tool. There are other users who are doing some very innovative things. That’s great for us because now we can work together to make it better for all.”

The acQuire program was brought in to modernize Queen’s University’s procurement and accounts payable systems. Unlike the majority of education sector users, Queen’s opted for a university-wide implementation. The user-friendly program allows staff and faculty to use a single username and password to access different vendors. Much like an online shopping experience, users are able to place multiple products in their virtual shopping cart and only check out once. The implementation process has been smooth and the majority of feedback from acQuire clients has been positive. Support is quick and readily available for anyone having difficulties.

“Everything is located in one convenient location from the start of researching the product, placing the order, getting approvals, paying the invoice, to helpful links, policies, procedures and forms,” says Bonnie Fleming, Purchasing Assistant, IT Services. “Probably the most important aspect is the support and backup that we know we can always depend on from the Procurement team. Knowing that they are just a phone call away and that they truly care that our experience is a positive one is priceless.”

Other benefits of acQuire include reducing the wait times between placing an order and having it filled by the supplier, fast, electronic communication with suppliers, full transparency  and ability to track a purchase requisition to P.O., explains Nicki Mundell, Procurement Systems Analyst and Solution Administrator.

“The change from paper cheque requisitioning to electronic remittance forms was one of our biggest successes with acQuire. The change created transparency for our Procurement and Finance teams as well as the end users,” she says. “The technology enabled us to build specific forms for our client needs, and we now manage about 95 percent of paper payment requests flowing through the system, providing more efficient processing times and cutting the number of steps for the entire process in half.” After a recent analysis, Procurement has also identified that 98 percent of PDF forms related to procurement exceptions are now routing electronically as well – resulting in a significant reduction of paper processing for exception related transactions at Queen’s.

However, the success of the system wouldn’t have been possible without support and acceptance by the Queen’s staff and faculty, both point out.

To learn how to get the maximum benefits from using acQuire, contact the acQuire team by email or visit their website.

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