The university of Calgary will be drastically reducing its budget over the next five years to deal with fiscal realities. President Murray Fraser told a packed University Theatre last Thursday.
University budget officers will be asked to plan for budget reductions of 17 per cent over five years for teaching units and 20 per cent for all other units. To start, teaching units will be asked to cut their budgets by one per cent next year, while other units have been asked to start with up to a five per cent cut.
“Until recently, universities were somewhat insulated from the vagaries of the economy and university communities were sheltered from all but the harshest winds of economic hardship,” Fraser told the gathering of over 400 staff, faculty, and students. “Such is no longer the case.”
Fraser admitted that the quality of education, availability of courses, and accessibility to the institution may all suffer as a result of the five-year plan.
“There may be decreasing courses–(or) more concentration on basic courses,” he said. “We want to accept as many students as we possibly can. If there are additional funds available for access, we’ll act immediately.”
He stressed there will be “no major programme cuts” although there may be reductions in programme offerings and the integration of some departments and faculties.
Fraser added that the gradual decrease of funding to post-secondary education in the last five years, coupled with future uncertainty, prompted the move.
“We can’t wait for operating grants (to be decided), and we’re asking for operating grants on a three- to five-year horizon to plan. But until we get those, we’re going to do our own plan.”
Fraser said the U of C’s plan is based on “best guesses” of what is to come.
Another key part of the five-year plan will see the creation of a pool of money to find new initiatives and programmes. Among these will be the largest retraining programme ever undertaken at the U of C.
“We’re going to have to reduce our 80 per cent commitment to salaries and benefits across this institution and we’re going to have to do it in a more resourceful way–particularly in developing our teaching and lecturing,” Fraser said.
“It’s amazing when you put these kinds of cases to people how creative they become. Academics are very creative and they’ll put their minds to it I’m sure.”
Students’ Union President Heidi Kutz said the move was good and bad for students.
“We’ve seen cutbacks in the number of classes, class sizes have (grown), but I think students can also look upon it a little bit positively in that the institution is looking towards a long-term plan, and many students will have a little bit of a better idea of what to expect in the future,” she said. “But in the long run, cuts to education and cuts within the institution will result in a declining quality of education and it will escalate the need for innovation and cooperation in a lot of things.”
Faculty Association President Helen Holmes said she wasn’t surprised by the announcement and that faculty had been working with the university for some time to solve some of the problems it faced.
“It’s very difficult to see how people can do any more than they’re doing right now,” she said, “which isn’t to say that things can’t be done differently.”
Holmes said faculty production has increased 28 per cent in the last few years.
However, AUPE Local 52 President Pat Walsh, who represents the university’s support staff, said that the manner of saving funds was not being addressed properly.
“I think we have to address two areas in trying to save money here,” he said. “One is the sacred cow of universities’ tenure which is not being used for the reason it was intended to be used but in fact is a lifetime contract.
“It protects what I like to refer to as the ‘tenure-protected parasites’ here.
“I’d like to see that end,” he continued. “I’d like to see the tenure used for the reasons for it was intended for in the first place and I would like to see the bureaucracy get slimmed down a bit around here. I think it could go on a diet and save considerable funds.”
The provincial grant is expected to be announced sometime in February.