The University of Alberta will be receiving $4.4 million in backfill funding from the Alberta government. However, Board of Governors Chair Michael Phair said the university will not reopen the budget discussion.
“It would take us all year to do another [budget],” he said.
In a letter sent to the Board of Governors chair Michael Phair, a further two per cent increase to the university’s share of the Campus Alberta grant, amounting to $12.4 million, was guaranteed by Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt. This was in response to the U of A committing to a general four per cent cut to operating costs. The correspondence was shared with the Board of Governors at a meeting on May 10.
In March, the university predicted it was getting a zero per cent increase in government funding while passing a 3.14 percent increase to international students tuition, a four per cent increase to rent in residence, as well as a more expensive meal plan. Since the Alberta government provided the U of A with a funding increase at the provincial budget announcement, the Students’ Union has been organizing protests to push the university to reverse those fee increases.
Schmidt’s letter said the funding will help to ensure the U of A is positioned to succeed in the future and secure an affordable place for students to study.
Phair thanked the Minister but reminded the Board that they are still waiting on a comprehensive budget letter. According to him, this document will clearly describe all the funding commitments the government will make. Last year, this arrived in July.
Phair said the funding will be allocated on a variance basis, meaning that projects or initiatives the university administration has identified as requiring immediate support will receive money. He said the general understanding is that the promised money will be injected into educational programming and infrastructure necessities. The government dollars will not be implemented into the general base budget. However, the remainder of the funding will be allocated in the next budget with planning set to start in August.
Students’ Union president Reed Larsen said he was concerned about the use of variance funding. Larsen said money which should be going to faculties often ends up going to other initiatives, like the Peter Lougheed Leadership College.
“That money then ends up being spent by administration on whatever projects they deem necessary,” Larsen said. “We cannot… make an assumption of variance [funding] every year.”
In terms of the SU campaign to have the Board reopen the budget discussion, Larsen said the Board made their stance very clear. He said the SU will turn their focus from protesting this year’s budget to challenging the university’s next budget.
“Our sentiment is still there,” Larsen said. “[However,] things will have to wind down now.”
Board member Claudette Tardif, a former dean of Campus Saint-Jean, said she hoped the money promised to the university by the government would be placed in the base operating budget and not delivered by variance in order to alleviate the stress caused on faculties by the four per cent budget cut. Tardif cited concerns with faculties that are stressed by increased enrolment including Campus Saint-Jean, Native Studies, and Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation.
However, Board member Ray Muzyka said any allocation made to the base budget can pose sustainability issues in the future since the funding is not guaranteed on a long-term basis.
“I believe we have no guarantee of stability of this two per cent increase,” Muzyka said. “There are needs for this variance (funding) to be applied.”
For Phair, the discussions with the province have been “positive” and “amicable” following the comments made by Minister Marlin Schmidt about President David Turpin “rummaging in the pockets of students” and not his own when making budget cuts.
He said a formal public apology from Schmidt will be made to express regret over his remarks in the near future.
“The premier and her office is very interested in moving forward and restoring our relationship,” Phair said.