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Much Ado About Nothing? An Analysis of Prioritization at Six Canadian Universities

A Correction to this article was published on 03 June 2019

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This research investigates organizational change in six Canadian universities framed as “prioritization,” which is a ranking method using predefined metrics for the comprehensive review and evaluation of academic and administrative programs. Our research found the following: (a) no prioritization process reached the implementation stage; (b) financial performance was not significantly impacted; (c) differences in pace, sequencing, and linearity had little to no impact on the outcomes; (d) the process of prioritization itself introduced political hardship to university leadership, including broad mistrust. Our analysis shows that prioritization initiatives have not provided a directly attributable impact on the outcomes at each of the universities. In short, there was much ado about nothing. Implications for universities will be discussed.

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Funding was provided by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant No. 430-2015-00885).

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Correspondence to Donna Kotsopoulos.

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Appendix: Definitions of Financial Ratios

Appendix: Definitions of Financial Ratios


$$\begin{aligned} & {\text{Net}}\;{\text{Income/Loss}} = \frac{{{\text{Total}}\;{\text{Revenues}} - {\text{Expenses}}}}{{{\text{Total}}\;{\text{Revenues}}}} \\ & {\text{Net}}\;{\text{Operating}}\;{\text{Revenues}} = \frac{{{\text{Cash}}\;{\text{from}}\;{\text{Operating}}\;{\text{Activities}}}}{{{\text{Total}}\;{\text{Revenues}}}} \\ \end{aligned}$$


$${\text{Primary}}\;{\text{Reserve}} = \frac{{{\text{Expendable}}\;{\text{Net}}\;{\text{Assets}}}}{{{\text{Total}}\;{\text{Expenses}}}}$$


$$\begin{aligned} & {\text{Interest}}\;{\text{Burden}} = \frac{{{\text{Interest}}\;{\text{Expense}}}}{{{\text{Total}}\;{\text{Expenses}} - {\text{Depreciation}}}} \\ & {\text{Viability}} = \frac{{{\text{Expendable}}\;{\text{Net}}\;{\text{Assets}}}}{{{\text{Long}}\;{\text{Term}}\;{\text{Debt}}}} \\ \end{aligned}$$

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Kotsopoulos, D., McKee, J., Timmons, V. et al. Much Ado About Nothing? An Analysis of Prioritization at Six Canadian Universities. High Educ Policy 34, 254–276 (2021).

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  • academic
  • finance
  • governance
  • higher education planning
  • prioritization
  • strategic planning