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Senate discusses investment, enrolment

Topics covered at McGill Senate’s meeting on Wednesday included increases in government funding for universities, McGill’s most recent enrolment numbers, and the launch of McGill’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

Reinvesting in McGill 

Principal Suzanne Fortier announced that Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology Pierre Duchesne has confirmed that the provincial government would be reinvesting $20.3 million in the university for the 2014-2015 school year.

“In order to access these [funds], we have to have agreements made between the university and the ministry,” Fortier said.

Fortier noted that such a value is not an additional investment; rather that it is an increase from McGill’s previously-reduced budget, which faced approximately $38 million in budget cuts in December 2012.

“This is not the additional $20 million from where we were two years ago before the cuts; it’s 20 million after the cuts,” she emphasized. “It is certainly welcome.”

Growing Student Body 

Kathleen Massey, university registrar and executive director of enrolment services, presented data on graduate and undergraduate enrolment, as well as a report that showed a steady increase in the amount of entrance bursaries and awards given to students.

The volume of financial aid awards currently totals $96.3 million—a 68 per cent increase over the past decade.

“We are ensuring academically excellent students remain enrolled,” Massey said on increasing entrance bursary aid.

However, some senators expressed logistical concerns with the report’s projected population growth. The Post Graduate Student Society (PGSS) Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney pointed out the projected growth rate was 0.7 per cent for undergraduates and 1.0 per cent for grads, whereas the actual growth rate was 1.4 per cent for undergraduates and 2.0 per cent for graduates.

“We’ve almost doubled […] our projected enrolment growth targets,” Mooney said. “Now often in the Senate, Board, other places, [the] issues of space, [and] class sizes come up. Can you give us some indication of why we’ve gone so far over what we were projecting?  What’s being done to try to make sure we don’t see continued growth in excess of even what we were planning?”

Massey responded that conservative enrolment estimates allow for more responsible budget planning for the academic year.

“The numbers that are provided to the provost in the development of the budget each year for enrolment are always a conservative planning estimate, so that when revenue is projected for the upcoming year or years, it is fiscally responsible in terms of estimation of potential revenue,” Massey said. “That may account for part of the difference.”

Fortier comments on MOOC launch

The principal also discussed the launch of McGill’s first MOOC, which began in January. She congratulated professors David Harpp, Joe Schwarcz, and Ariel Fenster on what she called a “great achievement.”

“Teaching and Learning Services are planning two additional MOOCs, one in 2014 and one in 2015,” she said. “Congratulations to our colleagues [on] a very successful launch.”

The free online course is named ‘“CHEM181x Food For Thought” and has attracted registration from close to 21,000 students from 115 countries since October 2013. Two upcoming MOOC’s will be additional courses: “Natural Disasters” and “Rebalancing Society: Social Learning for Social Impact.”

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