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Business Officer Magazine

A Few Differences Among Friends

By Laura Hubbard

Your strategic plan at CAUBO seems to call for redesigning your services to members. What influenced that plan, and what has come of it?

LAPORTE: When CAUBO was created 35 years ago, it was solely focused on the finance function. Then, as the portfolios of our university vice presidents of finance grew, we kept adding committees. Up until several months ago, we had grown to nine national committees, adding conversations about human resources, facilities, procurement, treasury, internal audit, taxes, academic administration, and risk management. And all of those conversations were going on separately.

The reality is that we are a 10-person staff, and so catering to the needs of nine functional areas with one or two analysts is a major cause for concern, since you can never go deeply into any issue. Second, if you have a small staff and a growing agenda, you need to rely heavily on volunteers to support you in the delivery of services. With the financial constraints that universities have today, and members who are increasingly busy, there were strong signals that volunteers could no longer provide sustained levels of "applied" subject matter expertise, but rather wanted to act in an advisory capacity. All this led us to review how we operate at CAUBO. We decided that our current structure wasn't the best way to serve our collective needs, so our solution has been to focus on becoming issue-based.

While there are challenges to catering to the needs of such a diverse group, CAUBO's status as an umbrella organization provides a great opportunity to break down silos between administrative units. Thus, what we're now exploring through our advisory group is the identification of a limited number of far-reaching issues that we can review on a comprehensive basis. For example, we'll identify what benchmark data we can gather for member institutions with respect to those issues, and determine whether we need to influence, lead, or back advocacy efforts to help support members in these areas. That said, it is worth noting that unlike NACUBO, CAUBO is not an advocacy-based organization. Another body, Universities Canada, is the advocacy group that looks at university funding, and positioning higher education with respect to government priorities.

For example, CAUBO recently released a report—Canada's Universities: Cost Pressures, Business Models, and Financial Sustainability. The aim of this study wasn't to position higher education in terms of public investments. Rather, this was an effort to help convey the financial pictures of universities to our many stakeholders—staff, faculty, unions, and also government-to provide a better sense of the increasing complexity of the financial administration of Canadian higher education institutions.

We are also trying to determine what can be done in partnership with other associations—including our U.S. counterparts like NACUBO, CUPA-HR, APPA, URMIA, and so forth—to consider these same specific topics at a much deeper level.

From a sector perspective, what policies are in place in Canada to coordinate between institutions—for instance, transferring credits or ensuring choices for different types of institutions within a region?

KULCZYCKI: In the province of Ontario, where my university is located, we have 19 universities—the most of any province in Canada. Ministry policies at the provincial level guide what we do. For example, while articulation is encouraged, there are no enforced articulation agreements between institutions. But, if we want to offer a new degree program or open a new school—if a university doesn't already have a faculty of engineering, for instance—then the ministry has jurisdiction to determine if that should happen. As another example, let's say a university wants to open a remote campus. It can do so under its own decision-making power, but there is no requirement for the province to fund it. So, some things here can prove a risky proposition when the province is not engaged at the front end.

If there is no federal entity that provides oversight or coordination, how does the accreditation process work in Canada?

KULCZYCKI: Standards are established at the ministry level. There is no accreditation of the overall institution, but accreditation is required by various disciplines. So, for instance, our engineering school must be accredited. An accreditation body composed of invited reviewers from other institutions comes and makes observations and recommendations. To the extent that universities benefit from federal funding programs and grant allocations, there is a separate audit process associated with that.

A big point of discussion in the United States in recent years has centered on performance-based funding. Is there any conversation about this in Canada?

LAPORTE: Ontario is the only province currently having this conversation and actually attempting it, but even then this is largely at the periphery. Performance-based funding accounts for less than 2 percent of the overall funding received by the universities in that province and is based on degree completion rates and graduate employment at six months, and at two years. New Brunswick is the only other province I know of that is considering adoption of a model like this, but nowhere else in Canada do we ask for performance-based funding to any serious degree.

Another hot topic with regard to reducing costs at American universities relates to the issue of shared services. Has this been a point of collaboration for Canadian institutions?

LAPORTE: Absolutely. We recently finished a series of meetings with our national committees and advisory group thought leaders. Those conversations included looking at the issues administrators are facing to determine which ones we should tackle going forward. Shared services came out as one of five priority areas we should be consider at the institutional level, the regional level, and at a national level.

Universities are really looking for guidance and advice for how best to implement the shared services model. A lot of work is actually being done in various parts of the country with respect to regional shared services, but there is no common model. What isn't yet well understood is how to achieve shared services within an organization or between organizations.

Turning to national aspirations, much debate in the U.S. centers around the importance of higher education and how we will increase the numbers of Americans who have a higher degree. What is Canada's position on the importance of higher education or the aspirations of the country for an educated citizenry?

LAPORTE: While there are variations among the provinces, overall the participation rates of Canadians in postsecondary higher education are fairly high—something like 75 percent—so that's not a major cause for concern. The same can be said for completion rates. We're doing pretty well in comparison with other OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) averages. Approximately 65 percent of Canadians have completed some postsecondary education, compared to the OECD average of 41 percent. Now, that goes down to 28 percent for a university degree, but even this places us above many other OECD countries.

The real issue is with the disparities and inequities of access from within the population itself. One objective of the conversations taking place in Canada today is how to increase the access and participation rates from our aboriginal populations. Only about 9.8 percent of the indigenous population hold a university degree. A number of incentives are being created at the federal level and by the institutions to increase that. The financial aid packages at the federal level are also changing in ways that aim to help lower-income economic groups and our aboriginal populations.

Becoming a more data-driven institution has become a goal for many U.S. colleges and universities. Is there a similar push for acquiring data in the Canadian higher education system?

LAPORTE: Indeed. Access to common data sets and benchmark data has become a definite need for our higher education administrators. Right now, the data is largely fragmented in Canada, with many different bodies holding the information. So, our big area of focus will be inhow we can develop common data sets to inform decision making in Canada and to help our vice presidents run their organizations more efficiently. This reflects a long-term vision for CAUBO.

LAURA HUBBARD is vice president for finance and administration, University at Buffalo, SUNY.

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