March 22, 2013

Nearly 1,000 students, faculty and staff participate in first budget town hall

450 members in Macewan Hall, with another 475 watching the webcast
University of Calgary President Elizabeth Cannon answers a question from a member of the audience during the first budget town hall on March 21, 2013.

Elizabeth Cannon answers a question from a member of the audience during the first budget town hall.

Riley Brandt

About 450 members of the university community packed MacEwan Hall Thursday afternoon for the first of two budget town halls, with 475 others participating remotely through a live webcast. The town halls are being held in response to the provincial budget tabled March 7, which reduced the university’s operating budget by 7.3 per cent.

“Because of the hard work done by so many in the community over the past few years, our financial house is in order as we face this budget reduction,” explained President Elizabeth Cannon. “We’ve expressed our view that we were surprised and disappointed at the depth of the cut. Now it’s time to get to work.

“During the next year, we have some time to reflect on how we do business at the University of Calgary and across the post-secondary sector,” she said. “We need to face these financial challenges head on so we come out the other side even stronger, and continue to move towards our Eyes High goals.”

Dru Marshall, provost and vice-president (academic), and Jake Gebert, vice-president (finance and services) outlined the university’s financial situation to 2017.

  • The recent 2013 provincial budget reduced the University of Calgary operating grant by 7.3 per cent. This is a 9.3-per-cent change from the two-per-cent increase promised in the 2012 provincial budget.
  • This means $41 million less than expected in the 2013-14 base operating budget, plus a $6-million cut of one-time money to the infrastructure maintenance program, for a total impact of $47 million.
  • Given our current strong financial position, we believe we can balance our budget for 2013- 2014 by using our contingency and savings; increasing revenue through options such as parking and investment income; increasing the number of international students; and reducing expenses in areas such as strategic investments and through attrition. No final decisions have been made on exactly how the budget will be balanced.
  • For the following two years (2014-2015 and 2015-2016), the government has told us to expect a zero-per-cent and one-per-cent increase respectively to our operating grant – although this is not certain. Given that costs are increasing at four- to five-per-cent annually, this would put us in a $20-to $25-million deficit in 2014-2015 that would grow to $40 to $50 million in 2015-2016 if no action were taken.
  • Further projections show a $113-million gap between revenue and expenses for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, if we do nothing to address the financial projections resulting from the provincial budget cut.
  • Because the cut is so deep, we will need to look at structural change. The real opportunities come in changing the way we do business. This could include looking at areas such as admissions processing and advising, low enrolment programs, targeted tuition revenue growth, supply chain management and academic program partnerships.

“It will be difficult, but we believe we can manage through the next year given our strong financial position,” said Marshall. “The worry comes in the following years. We have the next year to develop solutions, but clearly some tough decisions will need to be made. This situation is not financially sustainable and requires structural changes within the entire post-secondary sector. The current model simply does not work and doing nothing is not an option.”

Marshall shared positive news that the university is proceeding with hiring post-doctoral scholars – we are on track to hire 60 as planned, and making progress to leverage funding for an additional 25 – along with 50 assistant professors. And for the 2013- 2014 academic year, there are no planned cuts to student enrolment or programs, and no planned increase to tuition beyond the 2.15 per cent allowed by the government. She also said the executive team will be doing everything it can to protect staff and faculty positions during the next year.

“At this time, we have implemented a salary freeze for 45 members of the senior leadership team – this group includes the deans, vice-provosts and vice-presidents. We are not planning a hiring freeze for new faculty and staff positions already in progress,” she said.

“This is not the time to deviate from our very important Eyes High goals,” said Marshall. “However, given the severity of these budget cuts, our timelines may need to change. And in every decision we make, we must consider the impact on the student experience. We look forward to hearing your creative ideas on how we can move forward together.”

Watch for a future article on a recent economic impact study that determined the University of Calgary has an economic impact of $7.92 billion on the Calgary region. This means a $210-million loss to the regional economy resulting from the province’s cut of $47 million.