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Alberta NDP propose pay cap for top university executives

By Sean Willett, July 20 2017 —

University administrators in Alberta may face a pay cut in 2018.

As a part of the Alberta NDP government’s ongoing agencies, boards and commissions (ABC) review, advanced education minister Marlin Schmidt is proposing compensation limits for university executives. Schmidt intends to submit his recommendations to cabinet this fall, with final legislation ready by early 2018.

This call for a cap on administrative pay and benefits comes following an extensive review of the governance and structure of Alberta’s post-secondary institutions. Schmidt said that this review intended to ensure the province’s post-secondary spending is being allocated appropriately.

“We want to make life better for students by investing in university education, but in this time of limited budgets we want to make sure that all of our money is going to support students the best way it can,” he said. “One of the ways we’re doing that is reviewing executive compensation and making sure that our university executives are compensated fairly.”

The review found that administrators at Alberta universities make more than their counterparts in the rest of Canada. Both University of Alberta president David Turpin and University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon made over $800,000 last year in total compensation including non-cash benefits. In comparison, University of British Columbia president Santa J. Ono made $367,152 in total compensation in 2016-17 including non-cash benefits.

Schmidt blames this disparity on a lack of regulation from the previous provincial government.

“This falls squarely on the shoulders of the last government,” he said. “They failed to protect students and taxpayers by putting in any kind of executive compensation framework. So we were in a situation where presidents’ salaries were skyrocketing but they were cutting budgets and letting tuitions skyrocket at the same time. And we don’t think that’s a fair way to treat students or taxpayers.”

Though a pay and benefit cap for Albertan university executives seems likely, Schmidt is not worried about losing potential administrators to the private sector. Instead, he said Alberta’s main competition comes from other universities.

“University administrators tend to work in the post-secondary sector,” Schmidt said. “So we don’t have to compete with private industry to attract the best university administrators. We need to make sure we’re in line with other post-secondary sectors in other provinces to attract people to those roles.”

Students’ Union president Branden Cave said he hopes the government keeps competition with the private sector in mind, but is encouraged by the ABC review.

“More than anything, we’re happy that the government is doing the ABC review,” said Cave. “It’s good to see them taking a lead on making sure they are accountable for the sectors they’re responsible for. So I really think it’s a positive thing that they’re looking into this.”

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