The provincial government dropped its financial review of the University of Alberta due to increased co-operation from the U of A administration in recent weeks, Advanced Education minister Thomas Lukaszuk said Wednesday.
Several factors such as the university’s compliance with his instructions to shorten budget timeframes influenced him to discontinue the review, he said. President Indira Samarasekera’s Sept. 19 State of the University address also convinced him that the U of A would be handling its finances differently and restructuring its processes.
“Now that they are doing this voluntarily, and they are getting us to the point where we wanted to get to in the first place, there’s no need to have a third party review doing that for them,” he said.
“Not only through words, but through actions, the University of Alberta over the last few weeks has shown that they’re prepared to make the necessary changes.”
But a statement from the U of A administration said other than shortening the timelines of their original three-year plan down to two years, the institution is managing its finances as it always has.
“The University of Alberta has not changed its process or structure for budgeting other than to accelerate the timetable to reach a balanced budget at the request of government,” the statement read.
“We continue to work hard to meet the financial targets set by the government and are confident we will be able to do so.”
The Gateway reported Tuesday evening that Doug Goss, chair of the Board of Governors, had told members of the U of A Senate in a Sept. 27 in camera session that the review would no longer go forward, and the consultants from Meyers Norris Penny never showed up.
Goss confirmed this to The Gateway shortly afterward, but could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
But Lukaszuk said consultants from MNP did indeed meet with the university on a number of occasions, and even drafted terms of reference before the review was officially discontinued approximately one week ago.
The review was meant to assist the U of A in its financial planning to ensure the institution would be in an appropriate position for the government to reinvest in, he said. Lukaszuk met with all the presidents of Alberta’s 26 post-secondary institutions on July 3 to discuss his hopes of improving the next budget.
“My message July 3 was, ‘Look guys, you’re not happy, I’m not happy with this budget. But this is the reality ... The moment I have any extra dollars I can access, I’ll be the first on on my knees before the treasury board advocating for you to get your dollars. But in the meantime, get your financial houses in order,’” he said.
Lukaszuk will be continuously involved with the administration throughout their budgeting process even though the financial review has been dropped, he said. He described the relationship between the two parties as a “close” one, but didn’t deny a sense of resentment within the administration towards his office.
“I’m not naive. As a minister in a position where you have to cut the budget by seven per cent, I’m not exactly the poster boy for the University of Alberta at this time,” he said.
“The fact is that I’m in government. And in government, often we have to make decisions that keep us awake at night.”