Days after the Ontario provincial government announced deep cuts to higher education in their province, Toronto's York University president Susan Mann accepted and welcomed the largest private donation to a university in Canadian history. Canadian entrepreneur Seymour Schulich had just given the former faculty of administrative studies, now the Schulich School of Business, Can$15 million (Pounds 7.1 million).
Canada's university funding has traditionally struck a balance between small private donations and greater government support. If York University is a harbinger, the scales could start tipping.
"In these times of increasing fiscal restraint, we rely more than ever on private and corporate financial support," said Dr Mann.
Mr Schulich, an executive in the mining industry who has donated substantial sums of money to almost two dozen Canadian universities, said he looks forward to a "long and uplifting association with York University".
The business school, established in 1965 and the largest in Canada, annually enrols over 7,000 full and part-time students. Thanks to the donation, it will receive endowments for five chairs as well as scholarships of Can$5,000, Can $10,000 and Can$15,000 for BBA, MBA and PhD students respectively.
Christopher Hyde, an observer of the university funding environment, has been noticing some changes. He says Canadian universities have been courting the private donor more aggressively.
"Private fundraising is becoming a growing activity with the realisation that government has limits," said Mr Hyde from Montreal where he serves as Concordia University's associate vice rector of institutional relations.
Mr Hyde believes Canadian universities that see increased private money will not have the equivalent in public money scaled back by government. He says public funds cover day-to-day expenditures or substantial portions of capital projects. Government rarely funds typical private donor areas such as endowments and fellowships.
Private funds are the life-blood of United States universities, where large donations are more commmonplace. Yeshiva University, a school for religious study in New York City, was recently willed $22 million (Pounds 14.6 million). The money was left from the stock portfolio of a seemingly poor recluse.
But it may be a tax incentive that ends up reconfiguring Canadian university funding. Ontario's Crown Foundation allows donors to write off 100 per cent of their donation. According to Mr Hyde, that may have allowed York to beat Mr Schulich's alma mater, McGill University, for the large donation.