Canada’s Top Post-Secondary Execs Answer Students’ Burning Questions: Part Two

Welcome to the conclusion of our two-part series, where we offer Canada’s post-secondary students the chance to ask senior administrators about the issues that impact them most as students. While Part One focused on how schools choose which programs to offer and what to charge for tuition, Part Two will take a look at students’ questions about which parts of their jobs senior admin find most fulfilling and (dun dun dunnnnnnn) why they deserve to make such high salaries.  

So without further adieu, let’s turn things back over to the students and senior administrators.


Q. What do you love about your job and/or what do you dislike about it? (Not just about the kind of work, but how you connect with it personally.)

Higher education is a unique sector, one that often wrestles with deeply sedimented organizational cultures and processes, in addition to the expectations levied by a public that does not always understand these forces. With these challenges in mind, how do senior administrators find fulfillment in their careers?

“I get great satisfaction from seeing students succeed and seeing new programs succeed (again, ultimately demonstrated by student success). It can be very frustrating dealing with discipline, student complaints, academic dishonesty and job performance issues, but those are all parts of the job.”

- Dean at a College in British Columbia

“I like the problem solving and system improvement aspect. I find it rewarding to help students resolve issues and correct policy barriers. I am not always pleased by the lack of respect the operational duties receive in the institution - we always seem to have to fight to make change.”

- College Registrar

“I still like the student contact the best. On a good day, we get to add a service or a new program that will help more students get to where they want to be. I personally dislike all the bureaucracy, which is somewhat reduced in my current small university.”

- VP Academic

“Seeing people get something done when I have been able to help along the way. Hearing from students how their lives were transformed by the knowledge and experience acquired in their programs of study. Dislike overly bureaucratic processes and dealing with labour unions.”

- Anonymous

The answer of nearly every senior administrator came down to this: administration loves to make a difference and play a part in improving students’ lives; but they strongly dislike the bureaucracy, red tape, and politics that can prevent their efforts from succeeding.  

Q. Why are your salaries so high?

We conclude with what was hands-down the most popular question among students. Many phrased their question exactly as above, while others were curious about how much the salary of a senior administrator was, and whether it drew substantial funds away from the institution as a whole.

In response, many administrators countered the implicit assumption in the question—that their salary was unduly large for their role. Several people commented that they had taken their role in spite of the salary, not because of it, and that they could have earned a much higher income in the private sector.

Those who did view salaries as particularly high - either at their institution in particular or in the industry as a whole - typically pointed to the high levels of experience required for their roles, and the need to hire the very best for their institution.

“I was not paid in my role but if you expect to attract top talent to senior administration jobs you have to pay top dollar. People who are good are in demand.”

- Former Chair, University Board of Governors

“I took a significant pay cut to take this job. We may have different perspectives on my salary.”

- Associate Vice-President

“I chose PSE despite the salaries, not because of them. If you did a comparison of skills and experience required for positions in PSE and in the private sector you'd see clearly that PSE professionals are not paid anywhere near their counterparts in private industry.”

- Dean, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

“Our salaries are significantly lower than many industries in our market.  We target our compensation to be competitive with other public sector roles at the 50th percentile. People are the core of our organization -- compensation needs to be fair if we are to attract and retrain great faculty and staff.”

- Director

“I actually think that is a very fair and reasonable question. I believe they are disproportionately high compared to other segments of society and the employees show no sign of recognizing that there ought to be a limit.  However, until that happens, to attract employees for any level of position, each university has to remain as competitive as possible.”

- VP Admin

“There is significant variation in salaries across the country - but I get the point, we are paid well. To some extent, this is a an issue of attracting qualified candidates. Universities and colleges are multi-million dollar operations, in larger institutions, the budgets are in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Students and the communities that support colleges and universities deserve competent and experienced leadership, and that comes at a price. Again, there is work to be done to achieve balance, but to attract the kind of leadership that we want at post-secondary institutions, we need to pay salaries that are comparable to similar jobs elsewhere in society.”

- Vice President

“This is a very interesting question with a multi-part answer. One part of the reason is that competition for university senior executives is strong and there is little attraction for good people to take on these positions in the current challenging climate, because constant budget cuts by governments make it hard to do more than keep our heads above water. Another reason, ironically enough, seems to be "sunshine laws", which were supposed to keep salaries down: by publishing the salaries of high-paid public sector employees, we actually seem to encourage faster salary growth as people push to catch up with those whom they perceive as their higher-paid peers! Finally, it's just a fact that the people who do these jobs work very long hours in a highly stressful environment, and they take a lot of flak for the decisions they make.”

- Vice-President Academic and Provost

Special Thanks

Academica Group would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the StudentVu panel members who submitted their questions for this feature piece, in addition to the senior administrators from across Canada who are part of our Top Ten and Forum community. It is a great privilege to record and share the invaluable perspectives of engaged individuals on both ends of the post-secondary continuum, and we look forward to doing more of the same in the future.

If you have an idea for a future piece drawing together various members of the post-secondary community, please reach out to us at today@academica.ca. Or if your institution is facing a specific challenge or considering an upcoming project that could benefit from Academica’s support, please contact us at info@academica.ca.

At Academica Group, we’re proud to work with hundreds of committed, passionate higher ed professionals who want to drive improvement at their institutions. By providing enhanced research capacity and expert guidance, we allow these professionals to work beyond resource limitations and seize more opportunities to positively impact the lives of their students, colleagues, and campus communities.

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