In the wake of the much-maligned budget cuts released by the provincial government, there were fears across the post-secondary industry about how individual universities would respond to the loss in funding.
Several U of A associations directed large-scale protests toward the provincial government immediately following the announcement of likely tuition increases. The increase would see tuition rise by a maximum of seven percent each year for the next 3 years. The University of Calgary, who at the time of writing has not announced their plans regarding tuition increases, responded more strongly by announcing the layoff of 250 employees over the next couple of months.
Now, I am of the opinion that U of C is a worse school than the U of A by virtually every conceivable metric, but I think that U of C has gotten this first move absolutely right.
It’s never nice to see anyone lose their job regardless of circumstance, and I offer my condolences to those affected. But the cutting of administrative and redundant staff is the most important step towards creating a financially responsible university. I don’t like the tuition increases, but the blame must be put towards the U of A for not taking appropriate action to curb spending. They do not need to raise tuition to meet the demands of the new budget; they have to trim the fat in their expenditures. And the single biggest cost is in salaries and administration.
According to the U of A’s most recent financial statements, the salaries and employee benefits of the U of A make up approximately 61 per cent of their expenditures. That’s more than 1 billion dollars that go purely towards salaries. Even accounting for the $400,000+ for salaries paid to the board members, that’s an abhorrently high bill to foot for a university with about 40,000 students. If you divide that total bill by the number of students, for every 1 student that is enrolled, the university spends $28,371 on staff. Why are we, as students, paying so much tuition in order to satisfy this gross salary budget?
Furthermore, we have over a billion dollars in deferred maintenance that needs to be addressed, there are endless complaints about a lack of mental health resources, and the economics department is running a computer in their tutoring room from the 1990’s. I don’t want the university spending over a billion dollars every year on salaries for a pile of redundant, tenured professors and a bloated administrative body.
I understand that you have to offer high salaries to get the smartest people to come to Edmonton. But why are these people spending all of their time locked in their labs instead of helping teach the younger generation, who are being most exploited by their salaries? A tenured professor can teach one class a year and make $200,000. How is that efficient? Additionally, have you ever tried to get anything done through administrative bodies on campus? I once tried to pay a bill to the university for one of my student clubs; it took me 2 weeks and had me cutting a cheque to pay a forty dollar bill. It’s madness.
The university seems to take the approach that rather than hiring one good person for $80,000 per year, they should employ three useless people for $50,000 each per year. I don’t mind paying tuition, I understand that everything has a price. What I don’t understand is why students are tolerating their exploitation due to the poor spending habits of the university. The U of C has got the right idea: cut, cut, cut.
Tuition only makes up about $353 million of the U of A’s revenue. This means that the tuition increase is going to make them about $79 million more each year. That’s basically seven percent of the salaries and benefits budget. As I see it, the university has a choice here. They can continue to exploit students with high tuition, a massive deferred maintenance bill, and a lack of mental health resources on campus. Or they can get their act together and bring their spending down to responsible levels.
The UCP had a role in creating this problem, but the university has to be a part of the solution. And unfortunately for us and our younger siblings, I don’t see them taking that step.