Nova Scotia universities face increased financial scrutiny with new bill

A bill tabled Wednesday will give the province more control over how universities manage their finances and they will also be able to step in to prevent overspending.

Kelly Regan says schools can expect more direction from her department

Kelly Regan, the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, said the bill will give her department more ability to act if a university gets into financial trouble and needs help digging out of the hole. (CBC)

The provincial government will have more control over Nova Scotia universities and how they spend their money when a bill tabled on Wednesday becomes law.

Bill 100 gives the province greater oversight over the $320 million it is giving Nova Scotia's 10 universities in operating grants this year.

Kelly Regan, the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, said the bill — called the Act Respecting Accountability and Sustainability of Universities — will give her department more ability to act if a university gets into financial trouble and needs help digging out of the hole.

"Regular financial reporting and projections will give a clearer picture of a university's financial situation and help catch issues long before they become emergencies," Regan said Wednesday.

The proposed law also sets out a process for universities that get into serious financial trouble.

When a university asks for financial help, it will trigger the creation of a so-called revitalization plan. Creating that plan will be the job of a panel, consisting of between three and nine members, who will be appointed by the minister.

The panel will work with university administrators to design a way to get back in proper financial shape and issue a report. The minister then has the right to withhold funding until that plan is completed to the government's satisfaction.

'A last gasp effort'

​Ray Ivany, the president of Acadia University, doesn't think universities will be rushing to take advantage of the new system.

"I don't think, frankly, that you're going to see universities queuing up to avail themselves of the process," said Ivany.

"Because it really is a last gasp effort, a last kind of coming together of a community to say, 'Things have really gone off the rails.'"

The Nova Scotia government is taking more control over how the province's universities spend their money. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

In the meantime, Regan said her department will keep a closer eye on university spending and make suggestions when warranted.

"If a university began expanding rapidly beyond their ability to pay or something like that​, iIf they began a rapid capital program that they really didn't have the funds for, then we would have been able to halt them and say, 'Wait a second, we can see that you don't have the money for this,'" she said.

​Regan said the province cannot afford to come to the rescue of universities that get themselves in trouble.

In recent years, the province has had to bail out two universities, Acadia and NSCAD University. Together, both institutions received an extra $20 million in emergency funding.

For their part, the universities say they are behind this measure. They say they are ready to be more accountable, and work with government if they get into financial trouble.

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