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Nova Scotia art school avoids forced merger

Nova Scotia College of Art and Design student Lori Maceachern delivers her groups presentation in a stairwell of the Port Campus of NSCAD, on December 14, 2010.

Sandor Fizli For The Globe and Mail/sandor fizli The Globe and Mail

One of Canada's most revered art schools has its fate back in its own hands, but Nova Scotia's government also now has more leverage than ever to force NSCAD University to swiftly fix its financial woes.

The immediate threat of a merger has been lifted from the 124-year-old art college, but a government-commissioned report released Tuesday said NSCAD must explore partnerships with other institutions to survive.

This is hardly the only art college facing a fiscal crunch, but its ongoing deficits – $2.4-million this year, or 10 per cent of the budget – stand out as its counterparts in other provinces find ways to stay in the black.

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Nova Scotia has given NSCAD until the end of March to devise a plausible cost-cutting plan, to the relief of supporters who rallied to defend the school's independence. It also promised one-time cash to cover the current deficit, provided NSCAD abides by the report's stipulations.

"Now that they understand the gravity of the situation, I feel they deserve every chance possible to be part of the solution," said Advanced Education Minister Marilyn More.

The report by former provincial deputy minister Howard Windsor argues the status quo cannot continue, and that collaboration might cover a range of possibilities, including "closer affiliation" with other universities.

"What I believe needs to be done is a thorough analysis of the opportunities that may exist for collaboration," Mr. Windsor said. "And you take that as far as you need to take it."

NSCAD president David Smith promised to look at all options – including partnerships – to save money and preserve quality, but vowed to resist any merger.

"Everyone wants the same thing," he said. "It was just a matter of how we get there."

In the past two years, B.C.'s Emily Carr University of Art and Design turned a $1.1-million deficit into a surplus by slashing operational funds while welcoming more continuing education and international students to boost revenues, leaving the curriculum untouched.

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"It's a very lean operation," said Emily Carr president Rob Burnett, "but we've learned to make it work."

But NSCAD's troubles include $19-million in debt, much of it from a new campus added four years ago without first securing sufficient funding. Paying it down is a priority, but it will not spare the school spending cuts.

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About the Authors
Banking Reporter

James Bradshaw is banking reporter for the Report on Business. He covered media from 2014 to 2016, and higher education from 2010 to 2014. Prior to that, he worked as a cultural reporter for Globe Arts, and has written for both the Toronto section and the editorial page. More

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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