New President, old problems: Nauman Farooqi explains the university’s challenges

    Portrait of the St. Thomas University board president Nauman Farooqi. (Giuliana Grillo/AQ)

    When Nauman Farooqi started his new position as president of St. Thomas University, he said it was “no surprise” that the university’s main challenge is financial stability.

    With a forecasted operating deficit of $420,000 for the 2023-24 fiscal year, STU struggles to combat inflation and post-pandemic conditions.

    “There is no silver bullet that will fix a situation,” he said, noting that the university requires a new strategic plan to tackle this issue since the 2019-2024 plan didn’t account for the pandemic.

    Combating financial issues

    To Farooqi, one of the ways STU could get more funding is through higher enrollment. He said the university needs to promote what makes it unique, such as small class sizes and a tight-knit community.

    Enrollment in public colleges and universities in Canada decreased by 2.2 million students during the 2020-2021 academic year due to COVID-19, as reported by Statistics Canada. However, with recruitment back in-person in 2023, STU’s first-year enrolment has gone up by 10 per cent, although the official number will be released later this year.

    Farooqi is hopeful that enrolment numbers will remain high, as long as the university knows what its value is.

    “Research tells us that the liberal arts degree provides a lot of those things, which are really in sync with what the careers and the opportunities of tomorrow [are].”

    Farooqi also said the university needs to maintain good relations with the provincial government, as 46.8 per cent of STU’s revenue comes from its provincial operating grant.

    “[Financial stability] is connected to government relations and our kind of share of the funding that we get from the government,” he said. 

    Scholarships to lessen the burden of tuition

    This academic year, tuition went up by three per cent, putting costs at $8,280 for domestic students and $18,610 for international students.

    As shown by last year’s More Than Tuition campaign launched by the students’ union, 54.7 per cent of surveyed students indicated their primary concern is tuition.

    Related: EXPLAINER: Why does your tuition keep going up?

    Farooqi acknowledged that, while 47.7 per cent of revenue comes from tuition and student fees,  he wants to alleviate students’ financial burdens by increasing access to scholarships.

    “This year essentially is going to be on really ramping up and trying to increase our scholarship opportunities,” he said. “We need to raise more money in that stream so that we are able to provide more scholarships and better scholarships, which will lessen the burden on the students moving forward.”

    He also recognized that international students face a greater financial burden as they have to pay more than double the tuition paid by domestic students since they are not covered by the provincial grant. International students often cannot apply for scholarships due to their legal status.

    “We do [need] to talk to the donors and see if we can open those [scholarships] up and also explore avenues in which we can get other new donations coming in which are either open to all students or directed towards international students.”