Future of quality money initiative in question with rising deficit

A budget shortfall at the University of Calgary might decrease some of the quality students have come to expect.

With a deficit at the U of C all but certain for next year and cuts looming, some are concerned that one of the first areas to be hit will be the quality money initiative, a program that allows the Students’ Union and the university to jointly provide funding for student-focused projects each year.

Students’ Union president Charlotte Kingston said that while the funds have been secured for 2009, the university’s Board of Governors’ commitment last year to fund the initiative three years into the future is contingent on funds being available.

“Depending on the gap needed to fill — which, in other words, is to say the size of our deficit — there will be conversations about what concessions need to be made from everybody, and I don’t think we’ll be any different,” said Kingston.

Kingston said there will be some heady discussions with administration in the months to come about the benefit of quality money and the value it has had in the past instituting features like the nursing skills lab and extracurricular programs like Bike Route and the Co-Curricular Record.

“There’s been a lot of really important academic foundation pieces that are supplied through [quality money] funds, and to see the entire program go by the wayside, I think, would be really short-sighted on behalf of this administration in terms of trying to fill their deficit cap,” Kingston said.

Established in 2003, the quality money initiative came out of the annual tuition fee consultation between the SU and the U of C administration with the goal of funding projects at the university that would enhance the overall student experience. Since then the fund has grown from $800,000 to $1.5 million and provided funding for over 67 initiatives from classroom size reduction to scholarships and bursary creation. Student organizations, faculties and individuals submit proposals each fall to be reviewed by the SU which approves a certain number for funding based on how they will enhance the student experience.

“One thing I’m worried about, if we do lose it, is that it takes several years for people to get that far in the planning process so they’re banking on it being there,” said Kingston. “We bank on it being there, the university departments bank on it being there, and I think if it’s cut it will be a really visible sign of how poor off we are at the institution right now.”

Unlike the University of Alberta, which is forecasting a $59 million shortfall in next year’s budget, the U of C hasn’t released any firm numbers — something Kingston attributed to the U of C entering into collective agreement bargaining with staff salaries as well as the ministry of Advanced Education and Technology not finalizing the percentage cuts to base operating funding, both of which will be significant in determining the institution’s deficit.

“Tuition consultation has been pushed from December to February so we know we won’t get a firm answer of what those cuts will look like until very late fall, early winter,” Kingston said when asked when the deficit numbers will be available.

In the event that the quality money program is reduced or eliminated, the SU won’t be able to make up the shortfall. With their operating budget tied into other areas, the quality money would have to be found in different sources, something that would negatively impact those recipients that depend on annual funds from the program to continue their programming.

“A lot of student programs depend on that money, so if it goes away they will expire and there won’t be a thing we can do about them,” said Kingston.

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