Recession leads to cut backs on campus

By Sarelle Azuelos

The University of Calgary will be tightening its belt for the next financial year, thanks to the slowly sinking economic situation.

U of C president Dr. Harvey Weingarten sent out a memo Monday to university employees outlining measures that the university will take to present a balanced budget to the board of governors in April.

“Every year when we create a budget, it represents a series of choices and trade-offs between those things we would like to do, things we have resources for,” he said. “I’d say that every year I’ve been at a university, there has not been enough resources to do everything that everyone would like to do.”

Currently, the university is working with the province for a six per cent increase in funding for the 2009-10 year, but Weingarten said he’s not sure if they will pull through. The university received a six per cent increase this year and last.

“I’ll simply say that the government, provincial and federal, finds itself in exactly the same situation everyone else does,” he said.

In his memo, he pointed out that every one per cent reduction in government funding would result in a loss of $3.8 million in university revenue. He hopes to receive word of the funding’s status within the next few months.

In the last 10 months, the university lost $78 million, or roughly 20 per cent, from its endowment fund, according to a March 4 Calgary Herald article.

Up to 40 per cent of the fund is invested in international markets, with the rest split between Canadian bonds and equities. As of October, there was also a loss of $16 million to the university’s working capital fund, which originally totaled $405 million.

As part of the university’s attempt to stay out of the red, Weingarten expects enrolment to increase by 1,500 students next year. Half of the growth is a result of planned expansion programs, while the rest will come from a larger incoming class, more transfer students and improved retention rates.

“When the economy goes bad, there aren’t as many good jobs out there, so students are more likely to come to university,” he said.

Universities across Canada have reported higher numbers of applications for under- graduate and graduate students.

Alongside the growth, administration is slowing its hiring rate. All new positions will have to go through vice-presidents instead of faculty executives.

Weingarten added that the possible amalgamation of humanities, fine arts, social science and communication and culture would lead to a more effective deployment of teaching resources.

“We think this enrolment increase can be accommodated, as we’ve pointed out, without any diminish in academic quality,” he said.

Wage increases for staff members and senior administration will also be capped at 2.5 per cent.

Students’ Union president Dalmy Baez was pleased with the review of the hiring process, adding that it is crucial for the university to spend wisely, but has some concerns about the increased enrolment.

“There are some comments around how the University of Calgary has some of the best student-to-instructor ratios in the country, yet our students seem to be consistently expressing their concerns around the quality of education here,” she said. “To me this is a clear sign that this issue goes beyond the budget.”

Baez cited the National Survey of Student Engagement, where the U of C ranks low compared to other G13 institutions, a group of 13 research-focused Canadian universities.

“There needs to be a larger commitment to enhancing the quality of education on this campus,” she said.

Continuing with its sustainability goals, the university plans to have a cogeneration heating and cooling plant up and running by 2012. The plant would reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emitted significantly, Weingarten said. The university is currently waiting for a turbine, which he described as a “jet engine” for the plant.

The plant would save roughly $6 million in utilities costs each year.

Other income will come from the downtown campus once completed in fall 2010. The lower level will be rented out to small businesses.

West campus– the area between the Alberta Children’s Hospital and residence– is also targeted as a possible revenue stream.

“We’ve actually done a fair amount of analysis on other universities like [the University of British Columbia] and Simon Fraser University that have developed some of their lands,” said Weingarten. “The result of those analysis shows us that if the university does this well– that is develop some of its lands for residential or commercial purposes– you can generate a substantial amount of revenue that you then take and plow into the academic work of the university.”

There are no projections for the amount of revenue that could be generated by the west campus expansion or downtown campus.

While Weingarten hopes the recession ends soon, he is not sure when the university will be able to end its fiscal constraints.

“If I actually could predict when the economy would turn itself around, I’d be out there buying stocks right now,” he said.

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