II. A Changing Environment

The present Strategic Planning Task Force, established in November 2000, reaffirms and endorses the Mission, Vision and Principles set out in 1995 in Leadership in Learning: Western's Strategic Plan (see Appendix II) and believes that they have served the University well as the foundation for institutional decisions over the course of the past six years.  While Leadership in Learning remains a living document, it is time for the Western community to address a number of issues which have emerged since 1995 and which will have a profound effect upon our University and its future:

  • The "double cohort" and the demand for increased access. 

In 1996, the Ontario Ministry of Education and Training embarked on a program of secondary school curriculum reform which resulted in the elimination of Grade XIII and created a "double cohort" of two graduating classes of secondary school students seeking university places in the Fall, 2003 entering class.  This anticipated enrolment bulge will be further augmented by the demographic phenomenon of the "baby boom echo" and an expected increase in participation rates in the 18-24 age group. The Province created the SuperBuild Growth Fund in the Fall of 1999 to provide support for new construction to meet the immediate space needs of an increasing university population.  Western was awarded funding to support three major academic buildings and several smaller projects.  In the Provincial Budget of May 2001, a multi-year commitment of operating funding to accommodate anticipated enrolment increases was announced for the postsecondary sector, along with a significant investment in deferred maintenance. 

  • Growing competition for faculty.  

Coinciding almost exactly with the anticipated increase in enrolment is the inverse demographic phenomenon of a faculty complement approaching retirement age.  Many faculty members hired to meet the enrolment surges of the initial "baby boom" in the 1960s are now preparing to retire just as the cycle repeats.  This is an international phenomenon and will result in severe competition for the most outstanding teachers and researchers. 

  •  The new research environment and priority setting. 

Beginning in 1997, both the Federal and Provincial governments have taken extraordinary initiatives in support of university research, which, taken together, have contributed over $150 million to research at Western.   The new funding has a policy emphasis on collaboration and support of internationally competitive research, requiring that Western identify areas of research priority and support them with operating funding, staff resources, and externally derived support through partnerships with the private sector. New funding programs have largely targeted opportunities in the Sciences, Medicine and Engineering, creating the need to reaffirm the value of teaching and research in the Humanities and Social Sciences.  

  • Changing relationships in the workplace.  

Since the adoption of Leadership in Learning in 1995, both the Staff and Faculty Associations have elected to become certified bargaining units, as have Graduate Teaching Assistants. While the transition to a largely unionized environment has been amicable, effective and systematic, the University's success in the future will continue to be dependent on a shared sense of purpose and direction between the institution and our union and non-union employee groups.

  •  The evolution of technology.  

Developments in technology have changed the character and expectations of much of our teaching and research activity.  Changes in access to and retrieval of information, electronic publishing, and the availability of computer links in residences and campus computing laboratories have affected both the study patterns of our students and the scholarly activities of the faculty.  Implementation of new administrative systems has changed the work environment for staff and administrators across the University.  Appropriate engagement of instructional technology and the management of information technology will be major challenges as Western looks to the future.

  • Increased reliance on private sources of funding.  

Since 1990, the percentage of revenues the Operating Budget of the University received in operating grants from the Province has fallen from 71.8% to 49.6%.  This relative decline in public support has placed increasing importance on the generation of funds from other sources. Further, new government funding initiatives – from undergraduate and graduate scholarship programs to the large-scale research projects supported by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Research and Development Challenge Fund, and the Ontario Innovation Trust, to the major capital commitments under the SuperBuild Growth Fund – require substantial components of the total project costs to be met through matching funds from private, non-University sources.  This new environment has seen a heightened dependency on external fundraising to enable the University to fulfill its responsibilities in both teaching and research.  In future years, Western will need to enhance its efforts to develop partnerships and cultivate engagement with our academic mission among the corporate sector, alumni and friends of the University in order to sustain the commitments made in this report, while maintaining the principle of academic freedom and the integrity of the research process.

It is in this context of a rapidly changing environment that theSenate and Board established the Strategic Planning Task Force in the Fall of 2000. Our report focuses on two critical themes, both essential to our objective of "Building the Research-Intensive University":

  •  The first is the challenge of recruitment and retention of faculty, staff and students in the competitive environment of the coming decade. Western's people determine our reputation, and our success in recruiting over the next decade will be critical to our future.Western must continue to be a university of choice for outstanding faculty, staff, and students, and must continue to be seen as an academic community committed to quality, breadth and diversity, and collaboration. We also must maintain close and supportive relations with our alumni, who are increasingly important to our reputation, our ability to recruit students and help them find employment after graduation, and our efforts to increase private support for Western's mission.

  • The second theme of the report is our need to focus on several major issues critical to establishing an environment in which our principal objectives can succeed: establishing clear expectations with regard to Western's size; supporting interdisciplinary and collaborative teaching and research; engaging information technology in support of our academic objectives; and integrating a consciousness of commitment to Western into the fabric of the University, from student recruitment to alumni cultivation and support. Western must respond vigorously to the challenges and opportunities in each of these areas, and our success will greatly strengthen our ability to recruit outstanding faculty, staff and students while strengthening our ties with alumni.

This report outlines Western's response to an environment of challenge and change.  Universities are decentralized and diverse by their very nature; evolution and renewal require commitment throughout the organization.  The recommendations in the report are therefore intended as commitments on behalf of Western's community, including faculty, staff, and students.  Once approved by Senate and the Board of Governors, these commitments will become the responsibility of everyone in our community and will serve as touchstones throughout the University as priorities are set and resources allocated.  Some of these recommendations, such as enrolment targets, lend themselves to quantification and are easy to measure; however, many of the key issues identified in this report are expressed as qualitative commitments, representing objectives and directions for the University.

Beginning in the Fall of 2002, annual reports of Deans to the Provost and of other major units to the appropriate Vice-Presidents will include reference to the progress achieved in addressing the commitments in this report.  Based on these updates, the President will report annually to Senate and the Board early in each calendar year, beginning in 2003.