By Dietrich Neu
The University of Regina’s worst case scenario is now officially a reality.
The provincial government released the 2013-14 budget Wednesday. Post-secondary institutions will receive a 2.1 per cent funding increase to their operating budgets, equaling $9.2 million and well short of what they hoped for.
The U of R alone requested an increase of five per cent; the increase it got amounts to over $3 million less than that.
The funding shortfall will “significantly impair the University of Regina’s ability to maintain the quality of its programs,” according to the U of R’s operations forecast document.
Saskatchewan ranks seventh amongst provinces and territories in post-secondary spending relative to its GDP. Wednesday’s announcement means more programs and faculty positions could be cut.
“We have told post-secondary institutions around the province that this is going to be a lean year,” said Don Morgan, minister of advanced education. “Resource revenue is down, so there will naturally be a leveling off. We think that this is an appropriate thing that we are doing.”
U of R president Vianne Timmons expressed measured appreciation for the funding increase while speaking to a cluster of reporters after the announcement. Timmons said the U of R’s share of the $9.2 million amounts to less than two per cent of the university's total budget.
“An increase of under two per cent means that we have to find ways to save money on our campus,” she said. “Through attrition we have been reducing our workforce and will continue to do so.”
The U of R’s 2012-13 budget already accounted for the lack of funding, which was predicted by university administration long before budget day.
Administration eliminated 25 faculty and staff positions in the 2012-13 fiscal year, and cut the university’s budget by $3.4 million.
Further cuts this year will allow the university to balance the books, however most faculty budgets will not cover inflationary costs for supplies and materials. According to the U of R’s operations forecast, staff layoffs will account for some savings but also results in enrolment reductions, which “compounds the revenue challenge” by reducing the university’s income from tuition.
“What we are going to see is students paying more for less,” said Warren McCall, official critic of advanced education. “If the quality of the education is diminished, and the ability for students to access it is curtailed, that is a problem.”
The U of R administration said in their operations forecast that they have almost completely exhausted their ability to reduce costs through staff layoffs, and students can expect a higher-than-normal tuition hike next year to make up the difference – business students can expect an increase of nine per cent. Without a high tuition hike, the university would have to cut over $5 million in 2013-14.
“Student debt is already at an average of $37,000, that is a lot of money,” said Kent Peterson, national representative of CFS Saskatchewan. “(Tuition increases) make education even more inaccessible to folks. It will have detrimental effects, especially on Aboriginal learners.”
The provincial government has told university administration that this level of funding increase will become the norm for years to come; when coupled with the rise of inflation, further budget slashing could be in store for Regina’s only university.
“It is getting really tough,” Timmons said when asked about the possibility of making additional budget cuts. “We have pretty well cut almost everywhere we can in terms of efficiencies. We are a very lean institution.”
“If this is a trend we’ve got some tough sluggin’ ahead.”