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Ryerson University president at Toronto City Hall in 2011. Joining the civil service was not in his plans, he said.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Ryerson University president Sheldon Levy will join Ontario's higher education ministry, giving the province's colleges and universities a friend in high places when he takes over as deputy minister on Dec. 1.

Mr. Levy's appointment comes as the province is wrapping up consultations with the province's universities on changes to their funding. Rather than reward schools for increasing enrolment, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities is consulting on a model that would recognize each institution's strengths and that could reward strong student outcomes.

"Up to now I've viewed the funding formula from the perspective of the president of Ryerson University … It's a critical part of the work the ministry will do. You have to evolve it in such a way that it's right over time," he said.

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The announcement on Monday marks the second time that Mr. Levy has ended his decade-long term at the helm of Ryerson. A new president was expected to be announced this March, but the offer the institution had extended to a new, unknown leader fell through unexpectedly. At the time, Mr. Levy said he would continue as president for as long as two years.

Joining the civil service was not in his plans, he said.

"Postsecondary education has to be seen as an investment in our collective futures, and the aspiration that young people are our future. I've always seen it that way and when I was approached in that way, I said 'I'm beginning to get interested,' " he said.

The ministry has held consultations with the sector throughout the summer. Sources say that the government's reform team is focusing on student outcomes, accountability and the ability of institutions to weather the coming demographic storm. A decline in the university-aged population will lead to cuts in the budgets of many universities outside Toronto unless MTCU changes the funding framework. A report on the consultations, WHICHwill offer the government several models, is due later this fall.

Mr. Levy, who was also president of Sheridan College, says that while his career has been spent at city universities, he understands the challenges faced by outlying institutions.

"When you're an urban university like Ryerson, you have a lot of advantages in regard to demographics. When you get into areas where there is a demographic decline and the number of students aren't there, you're in a much different role. That's where the funding formula has to be very sensitive. It has existed in a very robust enrolment climate so far."

In his two terms, Mr. Levy led Ryerson to unprecedented expansion. Student enrolment grew by approximately 10,000, accompanied by a building boom that saw it most recently open a new Student Learning Centre on the prior site of Sam the Record Man, the now-iconic Digital Media Zone overlooking Dundas Square and an athletic centre in the former Maple Leaf Gardens building, partly with the help of federal money.

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The university is beginning a new presidential search process in October and expects to make an appointment some time in the next 12 months. An interim president will be appointed at a later date.

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