Budget Town Hall bereft of good news

Thursday, April 19, 2007

  • "We have no fat we can go to anymore," said Summerlee of the budget crunch.

    "We have no fat we can go to anymore," said Summerlee of the budget crunch.

Written by Adam A. Donaldson

Money talked Tuesday night in the OVC Learning Commons and what it had to say wasn’t good as U of G President Alastair Summerlee outlined the preliminary budget findings that he was bringing to the Board of Governors Wednesday. The townhall-style gathering was joined in order to get community feedback about the budget process and what can be expected when the final University budget is announced in June.

According to Summerlee, Tuesday’s meeting has part of a new approach to consultation on the budget that had already included discussion with members of each individual college. And while the primary purpose of the meeting was to get community input, Summerlee pointed out that many Board of Governor members were in attendance at the town hall in order to hear that feedback first hand.

Summerlee began with a presentation of were things currently sit with the budget, starting with the University’s primary source of funding, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU). The president explain that the focus of the government spending on post-secondary education right now is on grad students with the double cohort year now moving on to graduate school. As expected there will be more money to accompany the expected increase in enrollment, but the government has set targets that must be met in order for that money to come into play.

Other funds dependent on meeting targets are research grants and Summerlee says that there is increased competition out there between the universities to get them. With all this money coming with strings attached, it’s been hard to solidify budget numbers as it won’t be known for months if targets for enrollment and research will be met.

Another challenge for the university is that MTCU funding has matched the rate of inflation while benefits to university employees, which makes up 12 per cent of the operating budget, is going up faster than the rate of inflation. (A further 60 per cent of the budget is for salaries.) The problem with benefits is the Federal government’s cap on pension liabilities that says the university must pay a penalty should pensions exceed accumulated obligations by a set amount. Summerlee explained that the U of G, as well as other public institutions, are currently lobbying the Feds to reconsider.

Another one of the big challenges in campus funding is deferred maintenance and infrastructure costs. It’s been noted before that the U of G has one of the oldest campuses in Ontario and what little updates that have been made required the university to borrow the need cash. One bright spot, Summerlee noted, was the recent CSA referendum that endorsed a $10 tuition increase per year for ten years, specifically earmarked for energy conservation and retrofit. Summerlee said that the Board will provide matching funds for the student commitment and there may be further matching funds from the province.

At the end of the outlined challenges, Summerlee presented the meeting with what it all added up to: a $19.7 million shortfall, which is above and beyond anything experienced fiscally during the “Common Sense Revolution”. “If there is a comfort, we are not alone,” said Summerlee citing that other universities across the province are facing similar problems.

Students reading this right now may be a little concerned because the writing between the lines here says, “tuition increase.” In fact tuition increases will be pushed to their maximum per year percentage of 4.5, meaning the average undergrad will have to pay about $100 more per semester next year. International students, who were hit hard with tuition increases last year, will see no change because of the introduced cohort fee, which says they pay the same rate year-to-year. The only international students facing an increase are incoming new students who will pay 8 per cent, or $550, more per semester over last year.

Summerlee said that what the Board needs to do to address the fiscal inadequacies is come up with a multi-year plan, look at where the university is by completing the year-end for the 2006/2007 school year and gather the finer details and specifics from the recent federal and provincial budgets. When asked at the Q&A about further monetary help from either of those levels of government, Summerlee said there is currently not much political will to make post-secondary funding a priority and as such asked everyone concerned about the issue to address it with their local politicians.

The final budget will be brought to the Board of Governors at their June 7th meeting

| More
Bookstore First Year