Nfld. & Labrador

Gerry Byrne didn't realize 'it was as bad as it was' at CNA

Report says College of the North Atlantic has "neglected the importance of teaching for several years."

Minister responsible for college encourages MUN to take similar approach

Minister of Advanced Education and Skills, Gerry Byrne, says he'd like to see Memorial University go through a similar process. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The Minister responsible for the College of the North Atlantic says the public institute needs fixing.

Gerry Byrne's comments follow a review of CNA that reveals, among other things, poor controls and questionable spending.

​"They're not going to be spending reserve surpluses, they're not going to be just letting their IT systems fall into disrepute, they're not going to allow their academic quality control fall into disrepute," said Byrne.

"I'm not trying to suggest everything is rosy, far from it."

The College of the North Atlantic has been living beyond its means, according to a review. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The findings were released Friday as part of a review entitled the CNA Modernization Plan 2019.

To be honest, when we took the cover off, and looked down inside the pail, we were pretty shocked.- Gerry Byrne

Byrne admits problems at the college have been around for years.

"We knew that there were problems. To be honest, when we took the cover off, and looked down inside the pail, we were pretty shocked. We didn't realize it was as bad as it was," said Byrne.

The report also identifies academic planning shortfalls, as well as a need for modernizing the programs and courses offered.

"Preliminary findings confirm that the College has neglected the importance of teaching for several years," reads the report.

Advanced Education, Skills and Labour Minister Gerry Byrne speaks at the College of the North Atlantic Stephenville campus on Friday. (CNA/Twitter)

In addition, there's a lack of "clear and coherent processes for program development," as well as program review and teaching evaluations.

Given the availability of online courses at various other Canadian institutions, the report says it is "critical" that CNA benchmarks its performances against the competition and provide first-class programming and facilities.

Trying to stay competitive

Outlined in the executive summary of the report are a number of areas of "significant concern."

"The College has operated with systemic and continuous deficits, teaching and learning have not received an appropriate degree of attention, and quality and accountability are not entrenched in the organizational culture," read the executive summary.

The College of the North Atlantic operate 17 campuses in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as a campus in Qatar. (Courtesy College of the North Atlantic Qatar)

While there is an integrated human resources and financial management system, "teaching and learning, student services, community outreach and employer engagement remain largely the purview of each individual campus."

CNA has a unique history and situation, given its 17 campuses across the province — plus one in Qatar — as well as being a Crown agency that answers to the provincial government.

The previous operation of CNA as a multi-campus system meant each campus had relative autonomy with its communities. And it's still largely decentralized — especially when it comes to academic planning and student support, the report says.

This stand-alone operating model meant the review process was difficult due to a "lack of comprehensive, reliable documentation," meaning methodology could not be applied right across the board.

The College of the North Atlantic, with headquarters in Stephenville, needs to develop courses that meet the needs of the job market, according to the review. (Google Maps)

"The College's multiple systems and structures, which support academic planning and student learning, also have been seriously neglected and are in a critical state."

So much so, in fact, that a national accrediting body has placed one of the college's programs on probation, citing deficiencies in all areas of that program. The report did not say which program that is.

As for managing finances, "CNA has been living beyond its means," the report states, including carrying sizeable year-end deficits since 2013.

'Lack of financial planning'

A large part of problem was the decision to offer additional programming in high-demand areas, but those decisions were made "without due care or consideration for sustainability," and to cover those costs CNA reallocated funding from salaries and unfilled positions.

"This lack of financial planning has resulted in the College no longer being able to cover its operating deficit."

If it had been allowed to continue, CNA's lack of financial planning would have had a negative impact on the provincial government's already dire fiscal situation.

Campuses are also at the end of their life cycle, and since the only plant owned by the college is the Prince Philip Drive one, that means the Department of Transportation and Works is footing the bill for the constant maintenance required to just maintain operations.
The College of the North Atlantic owns the campus in St. John's but repair costs for its other campuses are billed to the Department of Transportation and Works. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The college's revenue comes 50 per cent from the province through grant-in-aid; 20 per cent through the federal government's labour market development agreements with the provincial government; and 30 per cent through tuition and contracts.

It had a $135-million budget for 2015-16 fiscal, employed 1,300 staff, enrolled 9,100 students and graduated 2,000 students.

As for actions already taken, the college aligned its discretionary spending with the provincial government's recommendations, enhancing professional development and identifying priority areas for increasing revenue.

The college spoke with staff and administration over a six-month review period.

Message to Memorial University

The fix has started, according to Byrne, who said CNA has already found millions of dollars in savings.

"When we started, we knew at CNA there were deficiencies and we have more confidence in it today, after revealing this report, than we had yesterday."

Memorial University has to find a way to make up for a $11.9-million cut in the operating grant from the province. Byrne says MUN could learn something from CNA. (CBC)

The minister adds he'd like to see Memorial University go through a similar exercise to review its expenses and processes, to find out what improvements can be made.

"It's is definitely a process that's applicable to other post secondary institutions and I would encourage MUN to look at CNA as a role model and as an example." 


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