|November 12, 1999||Volume 7, Number 6|
Macleans values arent those of U of S
By Peter MacKinnon
U of S President
The Maclean's ranking of universities has again hit the newsstands. This popular edition measures and ranks universities against a set of factors that, taken as a whole, suggest an "ideal" university.
In most cases the differences are minimal, because most Canadian universities are quite similar. However, the values that underlie the choice of some criteria are inconsistent with the University of Saskatchewans mandate.
One such value is affordability. The University of Saskatchewan has one of the lowest tuition rates in the country, but Macleans does not rank the amount of tuition charged to students. Because so many of the criteria used in the rankings rely on a healthy operating budget, we are in effect punished by Macleans for our low tuition fees.
In fact, if we were to increase tuition by $1,000 per student, we would still be as affordable as other universities such as the University of Toronto, and we could jump two spots in the rankings by investing the additional funds in Student Affairs and Services, and Scholarships and Bursaries.
Another value which is not reflected in the Macleans rankings is frugality. We have one of the lowest operating grants per weighted full-time equivalent student of any university in our category, but the fact that we offer a full range of high quality programs at the lowest cost to taxpayers, without running a deficit, is a strike against us in the survey.
We are proud of our resourcefulness, even though we believe our operating grant must increase if we are to remain competitive.
A third value held at the U of S is accessibility to our own Saskatchewan students. Macleans ranks universities based on the number of students they admit from outside their home province.
For many years, the U of S had a "Saskatchewan First" policy which ensured that Saskatchewan youngsters would have first claim to a seat in our university. While this has changed somewhat, service to the people of Saskatchewan continues to be a central part of our mandate.
A second component of accessibility is the grade point average required for admission. Currently, the average high school student entering the U of S has a grade point average of 82 per cent. This is very close to the mean across Canada, which is 82.4 per cent.
If we were to increase the grade point average to 85 per cent, we could climb two spots in the Macleans rankings. But what impact would such a move have on accessibility?
The size and flexibility of a universitys operating budget has a significant impact on where a university ends up in the rankings. The University of Saskatchewans operating fund makes up 49 per cent of our total revenues. These are the funds that have the most flexibility in their use; they are also the funds we rely on to offer our academic programs.
The other revenues the university receives are designated for a particular purpose, and cannot be diverted to meet operating needs. One example is research funds; another is capital funding for maintaining buildings.
This becomes significant when determining what proportion of its operating budget the university can devote to Student Affairs and Services, or Scholarships and Bursaries. This is why you will hear me and other university leaders expressing concern about "starving the core" having funds available to ensure a high quality academic experience for our students. Special-purpose funds do not replace core funding.
Given the restricted flexibility of our funding, we must ensure that our administrative efforts are as targeted as possible. But this targeted approach, at least as it applies to our alumni fundraising efforts, is another strike against us in the Macleans rankings.
Macleans gives points for the percentage of alumni who have given money to the university within the past five years. The size of the gift is irrelevant. This means that if we were to solicit $1 from 25 per cent of our graduates, we would be ranked first in this category, even though we would have raised only $20,000.
Our alumni fundraising efforts take the limited resources we have available and target them to those alumni in the best position to make a gift to the university. The result is an annual fund that raises $800,000 from alumni each year.
The Macleans rankings do not take into account the special mandates of universities like the University of Saskatchewan, whose first commitment is to serve the people of this province. And that, I feel, is its greatest weakness.
I am dedicated to ensuring that the University of Saskatchewan is able to compete with any university in the country. But I am also dedicated to ensuring that we are competitive in areas that make sense for this university, and for this province.
For further information, visit the web site or contact email@example.com
Next issue of