Pilbara in Saskatoon

Pilbara in Saskatoon

Saskatoon, in the heart of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan sits further north than Hobart is south, by about 10° in latitude, (for the navigators amongst you). As the crow flies, it is 14,612 kilometers from Adelaide by the shortest route across the Pacific.

Winter temperatures in Saskatoon get serious, with the thermometer hovering around of -19° to -20°C through the winter months of December through to February.

The City is home to one of our newest Grant Thornton (GT)/Pilbara Clients, Saskatchewan Polytechnic. Their project commenced in late 2018 after the Polytechnic went to open tender to select a suitable solution.

The main campus is situated in Saskatoon. The Polytechnic provides courses across the higher education spectrum, ranging from degree courses through to apprenticeship training as well as undertaking some research, continuation training and standalone courses. Its regional coverage is ensured through its extensive network of three additional campuses:  Moose Jaw, Regina, and Prince Albert.

I recently caught up with Sean Engemoen, Associate Vice President, Financial Services and Starla Lozinski Director, Financial Planning to learn more about the Polytechnic, their progress with the Grant Thornton/Pilbara project as well as the Canadian Higher Education system.


Why Build an Activity Based Cost model and the pain points?

In common with many higher education institutions, Saskatchewan Polytechnic had endured years of shrinking resources and increasing costs.

Its Executive were genuinely concerned that, without a clear understanding of the cost of teaching, they were seriously constrained in their ability to make the right decisions for a sustainable future. They particularly struggled to accurately define the precise areas where it was critical to make decisions on course management and resource allocation.

Accordingly, the senior finance team members attended an Academic Impression conference on cost modelling, sponsored by Pilbara, and presented by the US Grant Thornton team for the higher education sector in the United States. They were impressed with the robust and proven nature of the GT/Pilbara Solution and proceeded to develop an ABC model to fully comprehend and understand the makeup of their cost base.


Grant Thornton and the Pilbara Solution – real time, remote on-site delivery

The technology of the ACE software, the underlying cost engine for the Polytechnic model, is a cloud solution provided by Pilbara and allows the GT/ Pilbara team to work simultaneously with Saskatchewan Polytechnic team members on the model without the need to travel to a specific work site. Saskatchewan Polytechnic staff receive all necessary support and assistance on an as required basis as regularly as is required.

This real time/site centric delivery is enhanced by a combination with other web based communication products such as Microsoft PowerBI for reporting, Zoom and Teams.

By their own admission, Saskatchewan Polytechnic  are at the start of their journey with the ABC model, learning about the makeup of their data and improving use and quality of source systems. This combined with the significantly improved visibility of their cost base, provides for a solid base going forward.


Understanding Student Fees 

Like many higher education institutions Saskatchewan Polytechnic is opening its doors to more full fee paying overseas students. The international market for students is highly competitive and pricing of courses on the international market must meet the market expectations. With a clear understanding of the cost of presenting various courses Saskatchewan Polytechnic will be better placed when it comes to pricing in this market.

At the domestic level, Saskatchewan Polytechnic students tend to be charged the same fee, irrespective of the complexity of the course offering in most cases. In other words, an equipment centric laboratory class with low numbers of students cost the student as much as a “chalk and talk” classes with larger number of students.  While potentially good for students this makes understanding costs for the Polytechnic and the inherent cross subsidization even more important.


Other reasons to visit Saskatchewan

As an aside, Saskatchewan, in the heart of the vast Canadian prairies, is well worth a visit.

Unlike some tourist destinations crying out from “over tourism” and threatening all sorts of charges and levies to restrict visitor numbers, Saskatchewan is delightfully uncrowded, and welcoming.

While the winters, as I mentioned, may be somewhat harsh by many standards, the rest of the year provides a pleasant climate allowing for easy travel and enjoyment of the magnificent Saskatchewan scenery, environment as well as local events and wineries.

I have to mention my arrival in Saskatoon airport where on arrival I wandered over to the tourist information booth. As I was perusing the range of brochures, my new best friend in town, Sheila (yes she was Canadian) popped out to see what piqued my interest in her kiosk. After giving me directions into town, and critical local intelligence on how the bus driver does not give change, regardless of how much you are owed, she strongly urged me to visit the Western Development Museum during my stay.

Therefore, the following afternoon, after my meeting with the team at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, I took myself off to the Museum, just as recommended by Sheila. Located on the outskirts of Saskatoon, a magnificently curated and researched museum guides the visitor through the development of the Saskatchewan Province. I was enthralled with the displays of vintage motor vehicles, farm machinery and even a steam engine and only wish I had longer to stay.

As part of my extended stay in Canada and the US, I look forward to bringing you more stories on ways the Pilbara solution is informing, and thus, transforming higher education space in North America.