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UniForum, Polaris and Nous Group

In 2022, uOttawa and nine other Canadian Universities, participated in the UniForum benchmarking exercise, an annual program run by the global higher education consulting firm NousCubane. This marked the first time uOttawa had participated in the exercise. The claimed purpose of this for-profit program is to evaluate the effectiveness of university operational services and to identify efficiencies “faculty executives need to strategically manage their administration and support services.”

NousCubane provides education benchmarking services in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Canada. It is a product of a 2021 merger of Cubane Consulting and the Australia head-quartered international management consultancy firm, Nous Group.

According to the Central Administration, the results of the 2022 UniForum benchmarking exercise showed that “faculty and staff [at the University of Ottawa] experience the second lowest overall satisfaction of services offered among participating universities” and that “uOttawa spends 17% more on professional services than the average, similar-sized research-intensive university”.1 Despite repeated requests, the Central Administration has steadfastly refused to share the UniForum findings, any information about the size and composition of the comparator group, and/or the report with the APUO. As such, there is no means by which to assess the appropriateness and quality of the data collected, the methodological rigid with which the analysis was conducted, nor the veracity of the conclusions advanced. The only information made publicly available is the non-verifiable cursory overview provided here.

In October 2023, the Central Administration informed the APUO about the impending launch of a new program being developed in response to the UniForum results. Titled Polaris, it defines this initiative as a “three-year continuous improvement program that aims to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the University of Ottawa’s administrative services for students, faculty, and staff.” At the core of Polaris is an agreement between uOttawa and Nous Group. Details of the connection between the Polaris program and Nous Group were announced at the April 2023 Board of Governors meeting, where it was revealed that:

To assist with the development of a transformation blueprint based on UniForum and additional data findings, the University engaged the services of Nous Group consulting to help in addressing structural costs and revenue challenges.

Nous Group identified the following five opportunities for the University to consider:

  • Administrative Transformation and Service Excellence: define, design, implement and refine administrative services’ organizational design and service delivery model
  • Procurement Reform: reduce non-labour costs through strategic sourcing, category management, and demand management;
  • International Student Strategy: design and implement a tuition fee and scholarship model, and identify priority sourcing markets;
  • Student Experience Design: design value proposition to students, review key enablers such as digital strategy, work-integrated learning, and program architecture;
  • Budget Model Review: design and implement a strategic-hybrid budget model.

The Administrative Services Continuous Improvement Program has been developed in response to the findings of the UniForum results and Nous’ analyses in order to support uOttawa’s ongoing growth, ensure financial sustainability, and foster a service excellence culture.” 2

As with the UniForum results, the Central Administration refuses to share the findings and recommendations emerging from Nous Group’s analysis.

As you will recall, in our June 2023 bulletin, we expressed dismay at the Central Administration having allocated between $40 and $50 million annually throughout the past five years on professional services and contracting. Since then, we have been looking into the history of Nous Group.

Here’s a short summary of what we have learned:

The Nous Group is an Australian-founded international management consultancy firm with offices in Australia, the UK and, more recently, in Canada. Its first Canadian higher education contract was a three-year agreement with York University in 2020. During this time, it secured additional work with York beyond the initial contract, extending Nous Group’s presence on the campus. In Alberta, following major provincial funding cuts in 2021, Nous Group was contracted by the University of Alberta to provide a plan for a massive academic and administrative initiative. Later that year, it was hired by Laurentian University to perform a governance and operations review. Its recommendations to Laurentian’s Senior Administration sought, among other things, to circumscribe the power of the university’s Senate. Since then, Nous Group has been popping up on more and more Canadian campuses, securing lucrative projects (e.g., Nous Group contracts with University of Alberta and York University are both in the seven-figures; well above what is typical for Canada).

From what has been observed of Nous Group’s work on Canadian university campuses and internationally, it tends to be strongly anti-union and regularly bypasses campus faculty, students, and staff in its work. Likewise, the so-called solutions it promotes tend toward “one-size-fits-all.” Given this approach, the APUO is very concerned with, among other things, how, and even whether, Nous Group accounts for uOttawa’s unique position as a French/English bilingual campus whose academic mission includes delivering of high-quality education and research in French.

The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) has published a briefing note that provides a background to Nous Group’s history in Canada, and which outlines issues that Faculty Associations and their members should be wary of when it comes to its presence on our campuses. In the current context of the Central Administration’s updates regarding university finances, we strongly encourage you to make time to read the OCUFA Briefing Note.

The APUO and the other campus unions have all responded to the Polaris program with apprehension. There is very little confidence in the Central Administration’s claims that Polaris will not lead to further cuts and service reductions on our campus.

We receive semi-regular updates about the implementation of Polaris. In the most recent update, dated April 2, 2024, we were informed that the Polaris team has, as of yet, not submitted any formal recommendations to uOttawa and is still in the design phase of proposal development. Nonetheless, Members are already flagging drastic changes in their respective Faculties being attributed to the Polaris program.

We will, of course, keep you apprised of any developments regarding both Polaris and Nous Group.

Please send any questions, comments, or concerns to

1. Please note that this webpage is only available to uOttawa employees through VirtuO.

2. Minutes from the April 20, 2023 Board of Governors meeting: