StFX president looks ahead

ANTIGONISH: The head of a local university said he sees changes on the horizon but wants to keep the same intimate feel.

Last week, StFX President Dr. Kent MacDonald offered a talk about the expectations for the university over the next five years. He said the university faces certain challenges with changing demographics and fewer Nova Scotians graduating from high school. This will mean the school will have to recruit more students from outside the province.

“More than half of our students come from outside Nova Scotia,” he said. “Fiscal challenges are a reality today and the idea that someone is waking up in Halifax ready to look after StFX would be naïve and detrimental to our long term success.”

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Within that context, he laid out a number of things people can expect from the school by 2022. He mentioned the StFX strategic plan, approved by the school’s board of governors and endorsed by the university senate, which lays out “five pillars that we’re going to be focused on.”

MacDonald said the school plans to increase its efforts to attract students from across the country. He said the school will not use international students to underwrite fiscal operations but will continue to grow the international student population to no more than 10 per cent of the total population of the university.

“We’re talking about 400, 450 international students from a broad range of countries,” he said. “The international student population would increase in a moderate and tempered way and what we will be focused on is making sure when these students choose StFX, that we’re going to give them a true StFX experience.”

He also mentioned the previously announced Xaverian Commons, which he said will change the look and feel of the school, as well as alter academic learning spaces on upper campus.

“We have a number of older buildings that are not efficient from an energy point of view and not particularly effective in their learning spaces,” he said. “We’ve identified eight buildings on campus that we will be removing over the coming years and in doing so, driving down our operational costs.”

Another item on the list is making the university as lean and efficient as possible.

“Today’s students are looking for different things at a university and they can be fickle,” he said. “Further enhancing our technological base on campus is going to be important.”

MacDonald said he also expects to see residential, campus and recreational life become more student-oriented than it is now.

“You will not see StFX follow the national trend of growth, growth, growth,” he said. “We are committed to staying small. We describe it as a university as a university is supposed to be. We want to maintain the intimacy of a small residential university.

“As much as we look at five years of what might change, what’s not going to change is important,” he added.