Around this time for the last few years, the students and staff of the University of Alberta have discovered that once again, the university’s funds are slowly circling the drain. But while this may be old news, that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. Cuts to programs is usually the standard answer to budgetary problems but more permanent, long-term fixes are needed to ensure we aren’t having this same conversation year after year.
This past week at the State of the University address, President Indira Samarasekera delivered the bad news the U of A is facing a structural deficit of $12 million in 2013-14, and that the coming year will likely bring with it a major overhaul of funds and resources. Of course, what this really means is more cuts to programs and potentially staff as well.
Thankfully, despite Samarasekera’s admittance that tuition hikes may come into play down the line, they appear to be out of the picture — at least, for now. Premier Alison Redford promised this herself during a recent visit to the U of A and the claim was seconded by Enterprise and Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk as well.
So while students can breathe a sigh of relief about avoiding a rise in tuition, some are still left worrying about whether or not their programming or resources will be cut. Samarasekera admitted at the address that small cuts from several places would no longer be enough to keep the university afloat, and the changes to come will likely be of greater impact as they invest in “strategic priorities” and “areas of strength” that set the university apart from other institutions.
While it is perhaps necessary in order to save the U of A, this type of action can only hurt the university down the line, as programs are cut that may be less profitable, but are still important to many students and staff.
With this news looming over students, it still remains to be seen what the U of A plans to do to make sure they don’t find themselves in this situation again. In the past, the university has attempted to compensate by indulging in one-time funding, investment incomes and reliance on the government, but it’s clear this model isn’t
These methods may have helped in the past, but it’s time to stop slapping band-aid solutions onto the university’s problems and start actually making a move to improve the situation in the long term.
The first — and arguably most important — step towards accomplishing that is a revamping of the Campus Alberta grant system that contributes funds to all universities. The U of A is hoping the province will keep their promise of a two per cent increase to these operating grants when they present the provincial budget this week. But even this increase won’t be enough to make up for the fact that the university’s labour costs rose to about four per cent in the last year.
If the labour costs continue to outweigh the incoming revenue, the university will continue to find itself in the same situation year after year. Add that to the fact that the U of A obviously requires more money to run than its smaller counterparts, and you’re left with the fact that the province seriously needs to revisit this funding system.
The fact that the university remains uncertain as to whether they’ll even receive their promised two per cent increase in grants in also worrisome, and shows a disturbing trend in which education is continually shafted in favour of other projects. Ultimately, the province needs to step up and deliver on their past promises if they want to continue to call the University of Alberta a quality learning institution.
That said, the province is facing budgetary woes of its own, and leaning entirely on them may not be the most stable of solutions for the U of A. If the university wants to guarantee an increase in revenue without fear of the province making last minute changes on them, they need to step up their game and go beyond depending on provincial grant aid to solve their problems — because that’s clearly not reliable. If this means turning to alumni for additional support or revamping the budget as Samararasekera indicated at her address, then so be it. The U of A has been standing on shaky legs for far too long, and it’s become tiresome for all involved.
In the end, no matter what measures the university decides to take, the fact remains that they must be done and it has to start now with the aim of making this a long-term solution. Otherwise, no one can know what kind of deficit numbers we’ll be looking at during next year’s State of the University address. Students and staff deserve to have some certainty when it comes their education and jobs.
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