New Strategic Mandate Agreement looks to bridge gap between old and new provincial funding models

UTSG to shift toward more research-based, graduate-focused programming


U of T announced on January 11 the signing of a second Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA), outlining its goals and priorities, with the Ontario government.

The new SMA articulates U of T’s institutional goals for the next three years, measuring the university’s performance within the Ontario postsecondary system and setting out enrolment targets. These metrics will inform the continued development of the new provincial funding model, which will be part of the third SMA, to be signed in 2020.

The SMA details five areas in which the university will be measured and which the university hopes to prioritize and improve in, consistent with President Meric Gertler’s vision for the institution. These are Student Experience; Innovation in Teaching and Learning Excellence; Access and Equity; Applied Research and Excellence Impact; and Innovation, Economic Development and Community Engagement.

Part of those five areas of importance are a number of metrics and targets that U of T hopes will differentiate it from other institutions in the Ontario postsecondary system. These include being the top Ontario university in number of published papers and adding 1,000 Indigenous students across all divisions. “We’ll be tracking those over the next three years, although we won’t be either rewarded or penalized for not making those outcomes,” said U of T’s chief of government relations, Andrew Thomson.

Thomson referred to the SMA as a “master agreement” in terms of how the university will be funded. It is meant to transition the university from an old funding model to a new one, which will be informed by “metrics-based outcomes.”

In the past, the university’s funding agreements with the province have been composed of a basic operating grant plus enrolment-based funding. According to the university’s 2016–2017 budget, $668.2 million was set to come from the province under this structure.

Now, “the government is identifying that they will set aside, in the future, a portion of [U of T’s] funding which will be driven entirely be metrics, not just by enrolment funding formulas,” explained Thomson.

Notably, under the new SMA, UTSG will see a decrease in domestic undergraduate enrolment by 1,800 students over the next three years, while graduate enrolment will increase by 829 in that time. This is part of a shift in focus toward greater research and innovation at UTSG.

With the province seeing enrolment decreasing based on a dip in 18-24 year olds available for entry to undergraduate programs in Ontario, the university wanted to protect its undergraduate numbers at UTM and UTSC. The cut was easier to absorb at UTSG, which currently enrols over 40,000 undergraduates.

“This is a very large, innovative university. There’s a lot of great research that happens here,” said Thomson. “We are Canada’s top research institution and it’s important that we articulate that and continue to drive that forward. That permeates itself through everything, including the quality of the education that undergraduate students receive.”

The university will also focus on international student intake, which is projected to increase by 581 students, from 15,382 to 15,963 by 2020. Most of this increase will be in undergraduate programs. “A lot of recruitment efforts are focusing in countries that have not been previously sending large cohorts to the U of T and we think there’s an opportunity for us to grow,” said Thomson.

“Obviously U of T is significantly different than other universities in the province, and this is reflected within the agreement. Over the next three years what we are working to identify is how we explain, articulate, and prove that we are in fact driving the outcomes that we have identified in the agreement,” added Thomson.

In 2014, the Ontario government signed SMAs with all 45 public universities and colleges in an effort to differentiate the institutions in its postsecondary system, cutting down on program duplication and prioritizing each institution’s program strengths.

Tanya Blazina, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, explained in an email that through their SMAs, institutions articulate “how they contribute in their own unique way to the postsecondary system in areas like enrolment, program mix, research, student experience and partnerships with their communities.”

The SMA also includes a brief summary about the development of the university’s five-year International Strategic Plan relating to “partnerships with universities abroad; student mobility; international student experience; and recruiting talent from around the world.”

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