Volume 13, Number 1 July 8, 2005

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Masters program in international trade gets OK after debate

By Colleen MacPherson

University Council gave limited-term approval June 17 to a new Masters in International Trade (MIT) program, but not before it dealt with some tough questioning about the course content and its budget.

In presenting the approval motion on behalf of the Planning Committee, Brett Fairbairn pointed out the program’s interdisciplinary nature and the fact 27 of its 30 credits will be available online. A final seminar capstone course will be offered in the last summer of the two-year program. Designed for business, legal and government professionals to take part-time, the new offering is expected to be self-supporting when it is fully subscribed.

With its target market and condensed format, the MIT program is unique in Canada, according to Planning Committee information. It will be managed by a committee that includes representatives of political studies, law, management and marketing, agricultural economics and extension, and students are expected to come away with a good understanding of the legal, economic, political, and business issues involved in international transactions and business.

But it was this content that concerned John Russell, an associate professor of accounting, who asked why the program does not include a course on international finance. “Is not finance fundamental to international trade?” he asked at Council.

Tom Wishart, dean of the College of Graduate Studies and Research, told Russell an additional course focusing solely on finance is “not necessarily required or desirable”. Course topics include international trade theory, law and business environment as well as international sales and finance law, and the college’s master’s committee and Graduate Council approved the program in March. Council’s Academic Programs Committee also gave its approval

Unsatisfied, Russell pressed for an answer about international finance to which Michael Atkinson, Provost and Vice-President Academic, pointed out Russell’s own college was involved in developing the courses. “No program is absolutely perfect”, he added, but there are always opportunities to change or adjust course offerings to plug any perceived gaps in the material. As it is, the MIT program “does represent a significant achievement in many ways,” said Atkinson – not only does it follows through on an Integrated Plan proposal, but it was put together by a “strong group of academics”.

Grant Isaac, associate professor of management and marketing and a member of the MIT proposal committee, said a course specifically on international finance was not necessary as the topic is adequately covered in other offerings.

Russell also asked about the program’s delivery costs. The MIT budget indicates teaching replacement costs will range from $5,000-$9,500 per course per year to cover release time for faculty. These are well below academic delivery costs for the Master of Professional Accounting (MPAcc), another cost-recovery program but one that pays the full cost of faculty teaching courses, not replacement costs.

There seems to be a different approach taken to calculating these costs in the two program, Russell said, making it far more likely the MIT program will meet its cost recovery projections. He wondered whether the MIT budget reflected the full cost of the academic resources required.

Atkinson pointed out the MIT proposal has the support of the colleges and faculty members involved, and “that should weight heavily in the balance” when Council votes on the approval motion. It was impossible to accurately compare the two teaching costs in the middle of a Council meeting but Atkinson committed to pursuing the issue.

After the meeting, Budget Committee Chair Bernard Laarveld said the way each program deals with delivery costs is an academic decision made by the colleges involved, and is outside the purview of the committee.

Council also discussed the need to heavily market the new program to ensure it is self-sustaining. Enrolment is estimated at a minimum of 20 students per year with fees pegged at $20,000. Tuition for the U of S MBA program is $16,000.

Laarveld, whose term on Council ended June 30, told the meeting the Budget Committee’s major concerns with the original budget were too few dollars allocated to marketing and too much optimism with enrolment projections.

“We’re inexperienced in promoting these new programs and have to learn how to market them properly,” he explained later. The committee has also been issuing cautions to self-financing programs that student intakes “may be delayed longer than expected, so it could be a few more years before they’re in a break-even position”.

Atkinson told Council introducing new programs always presents a risk but in the case of the MIT proposal, the risk is “appropriate”. He also commended the Budget Committee for its focus on sound marketing.

In the end, Council gave the MIT proposal five-year limited-term or probationary approval.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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