Winders: Sneak a peek at tomorrow’s headlines

Paul Mayne // Western News

As the last of the New Year’s Eve confetti gets swept away, like so many memories of 2015, here are seven issues that will define the New Year for Western and postsecondary education in 2016:

Academic libraries.

We don’t talk enough about libraries. But we will. And soon. The weak Canadian dollar has created an “enduring budget crisis” for academic libraries across the country.

On Dec. 18, Western Libraries announced on its website a reduction in its collections expenditures for 2015-16 and 2016-17. The numbers they used to explain the cuts were striking. Eighty-four per cent of the university’s acquisitions budget is spent on resources invoiced in U.S. dollars. That means a one-cent drop in the value of the Canadian vs. U.S. dollar results in a $100,000 drop in collections purchasing power. Perhaps most troubling, nearly all forecasts call for the Canadian dollar to drop even further in 2016.

Simply stated, there is no recovery without cuts.

Memorial. Ryerson. Calgary. Mount Allison. They have all made similar moves. More universities will follow. With continued currency stagnation North of the Border, and further and further central control of academic publishing South of the Border, academic library funding may be the biggest conversation we have this year.

Ombudsman Ontario.

As of Jan.1, Ombudsman Ontario now fields complaints about the province’s 21 publicly funded universities. And trust me, you weren’t the first person to think about what would have happened on this campus if that authority started on Jan. 1, 2015, instead of Jan. 1, 2016.

Keep in mind, there are no time limits to complaints. The Ombudsman may review anything, including past issues, especially ones still lingering in the New Year. Don’t be surprised if we revisit everything from university presidential leave policies to Board of Governors transparency all over again.

Also, Ombudsman Ontario officials mentioned parking policies were within their purview. Lucky we don’t have any problems with that on campus.

Preaching outcomes.

I know you hate doing it. And I know we shouldn’t have to do it. But we must keep pounding away at the public consciousness about the value of a postsecondary – and, specifically, a university – degree. Part of that is continuing to tell the stories we do on these pages – stories about the impact of our people, research and teaching on society. I am afraid we are going to be in sell mode for some time.

Trump 2016.

Don’t laugh. If you don’t think the reality star can be elected President of the United States, then you really need to visit a Wal-Mart South of the Border. The longer Donald Trump stays in the race – first for the Republican nomination, perhaps later for president – the easier pickings for Canadian universities to recruit mid-career researchers who won’t want to endure what a post-Trumpian landscape would look like.

Opportunity backlog.

Baby Boomers continue to hang on. The first Generation Xers just turned 50. And now Millennials want to leap-frog early career drudgery and head right into premium positions. I saw the erosion of full-time positions and increased dependence on contract (or freelance) labour destroy newspapers. We cannot go down that path. As newspapers did with journalists, we are going to lose a generation or more of top academics to more secure pastures. My hope is that governments and universities address this issue before it is too late.

Science.

Hey, we can talk about science stuff again. I look forward to hearing from our Canadian scientists in the public arena after a lost decade on mute.

Tuition-free postsecondary education.

Across the globe, students are increasingly unwilling to take on mortgage-sized debt to finance their postsecondary education. And countries are responding. Denmark. Finland. Iceland. Norway. Sweden. Germany. Mexico. Brazil. All sport some sort of free (or extremely low) tuition structure. We don’t like hearing that. Not in a country that boasts the sixth-highest tuition among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development nations resulting in an average Canadian student debt load of $32,000. These conversations start with students, progress to their parents and then rise to politicians looking to score support from the rising tide. All three groups are talking about this issue right now.