Trent University is continuing with its existing programming while in development of new programs, in the light of the new Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA) that came into effect this April.
The SMA is a document that was developed jointly by the Trent University Administration and the provincial government beginning in 2012.
The agreement outlines the areas and initiatives that Trent is expected to develop over the next several years.
The new term of the SMA (2014-2017) between the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities (MTCU) and Trent University identifies the following as key areas of differentiation: research, unique interdisciplinary pedagogical approach, small class size, community engagement, and inclusivity of underrepresented groups. These are the areas in which Trent will be expected to strengthen in the coming years.
“It is important to note that the SMA is a three year agreement, and it is a mistake to think that we have done that now and can move on to other things,” said Provost and Vice-President, Academic, Dr. Gary Boire.
He explained that what the government has initiated in the SMA process is the ongoing process of differentiation that has now put a set of obligations, expectations, and responsibilities on universities.
On one hand, universities are told to differentiate, and on the other hand if everybody tries to differentiate, then everybody becomes the same, said Boire. So what Trent has done is identify what it is it that we do differently from other universities and where our strengths lie, and those are the aspects that were put into the SMA, he said.
In terms of implementation, Dr. Boire explained that the SMA has many different parts to it and that some parts will take longer than others to implement.
For example, he explained one component of the SMA was the allocation of additional graduate seats, which indicates the different number of students for whom Trent will receive government funding. The part with seats for existing programs has started, while those for new programs has not yet been approved. And those programs are in the process of going through the various stages of approval before they finally go to government for the final sign off.
A new Masters degree program in Conservation Biology and a Masters in Instrumentation Analysis are currently going through the process of approval, he said.
Aforementioned are examples of some parts that have already started, while other parts will take a year or two to implement, he informed.
One of the challenges for all universities in Ontario is that the SMA identifies specific areas in which the government will permit future growth and at Trent these areas of strength are very limited, said Boire.
In terms of retention and recruitment, Boire said that President Leo Groarke has taken a personal interest with a hands-on approach to marketing, branding, recruitment and retention.
In order to improve the retention rates, Trent has begun a restructuring of the colleges and an increase in student services under Associate Vice-President Students Nona Robinson. But in terms of recruitment it is imperative that the university continue to recognize the energies of the diversity of students that come to Trent.
As to the question of why it was important to include certain programs in the SMA as opposed to many others which could have been included, they were simply told to be included by the government.
Every university was asked to identify ten areas of program strength, and they did the best they could to fully represent the full spectrum of activities at Trent within the ten, he said.
But the government then reduced that number down to four program areas in which Trent is to grow in. These areas were chosen because they were the demonstrable strengths of the university, for example environmental science, an area where Trent is without question a leader.
“It is important for everyone involved in the post-secondary sector—faculty, staff, and students to be very pragmatic in their approach to developing their opinion about the SMA,” he said. The university sector in Ontario is poised for incredible changes over the next decade or two, as public institutions universities are not exempt from the political realities of the times, he said. He added that in order to survive, one has to be pragmatic and work towards doing one’s best with what is available, which according to him will asking to do more with less.
“I think it will be a very challenging time but I am optimistic and confident that Trent will continue to do what it does best, but needs to be vigilant too,” says Dr. Boire.
As the term of the current Provost, who was essentially the principal architect of the existing SMA, nears its end, the new incoming provost will have to continue and accomplish its mandates till its term ends in 2017.
When asked about his thoughts on that, Provost Boire said, “I would like to think that the new provost does to my plans what I did to my predecessor’s plans – take what they felt was strongest and best and continue with it, disregard those they feel are weak and inefficient and develop their own.” Furthermore, “I am at the disposal of the new provost and will participate as much or little as they wish.”
If he was asked for advice then his advice would be, “Always listen! Listen to the sounds and stories of Trent before you start trying to change anything, get the lay of the land, do as the creator advised and listen.” But, once they have finished listening, he said to move on and bring as many people with them as they can to make Trent continue to be a place as good as it is.
There is no further financial information with respect to the SMA to report at this time, as noted by Vice President, Finance and Administration, Steven Pillar.
Meanwhile the President’s office is planning a SMA open forum some time between November and December, if new information becomes available.