By Kristy Koehler, October 17 2019—
The University of Calgary held a town hall the morning of Oct. 16 to pre-emptively address concerns surrounding the upcoming United Conservative Party budget. University president Ed McCauley, provost and vice-president academic Dru Marshall and vice-president finance and services Linda Dalgetty were on hand to discuss the institution’s budget strategies and to answer audience questions.
The UCP’s budget is expected to be released Oct. 24 but a glimpse into the future was provided with the release of a report from the Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances. The report, known as the MacKinnon Report, provides information and recommendations for public-sector spending, including post-secondary education.
Recommendations for post-secondary education include assessing the financial viability of Alberta’s post-secondary institutions and having universities rely less on government grants and obtain “more funding from tuition and alternative revenue sources, and more entrepreneurial approaches to how programs are financed and delivered.”
McCauley said that the U of C is eager to engage with the UCP government in a discussion about the report’s recommendations.
“The people of the province of Alberta spoke extremely strongly,” stressed McCauley. “They elected a government with a very big plurality and in addition, they elected a government whose mandate right now is focused on austerity. The people of Alberta have spoken.”
McCauley also assured attendees that the university has no direct knowledge about the to-be-released budget, but that they have “heard very clearly the message from our government that was elected by the people of Alberta — they are talking about austerity.”
“But, there’s not this secret group that knows what’s going to happen,” he reiterated.
Marshall, however, did state that the MacKinnon Report’s recommendations were not a surprise.
“We had a feeling and an idea of what might be coming down the pipe,” she said. “We have had our senior leadership team meeting throughout the summer and doing some heavy lifting. We aren’t starting from square zero and that’s important for the community to know.”
In Alberta, publicly-funded institutions like the University of Calgary receive operating funds through the Campus Alberta Grant. It is this grant that Marshall sees being reduced but stressed that the university has increased its revenue from research and ancillary services. In addition, revenue from tuition has increased due to the number of students on campus.
The university’s internal budgeting process has had its timeline changed based on the delay in release of the UCP’s budget, allowing for more time to receive suggestions from students, faculty and other stakeholders on how to save money, generate new revenue and be more efficient in current processes.
Dalgetty noted that an IdeaScale had been set up to collect suggestions. Community members and stakeholders can visit ucalgary.ideascale.com to add their suggestions, or view, vote or comment on suggestions by other users.
While the university’s budget will be modified for next year, the budget for this year has already been set and is well underway, so what happens if and when an in-year reduction becomes necessary?
Marshall says the university has a plan and is anticipating that in-year reduction. That plan includes “highly strategic spending” and a reduction in base budget where opportunities exist. Where unable to do so, the plan is to bridge the gap with one-time money until the next university budget can be set.
McCauley and Marshall emphasized the pre-planning done on the part of the university in anticipation of budget cuts.
“Prior to the election of the government, we had been advocating for a strong post-secondary system in the province and the role that the University of Calgary can play,” said McCauley. “Post-election, we are presenting the value proposition of the University of Calgary to all Ministries.
That value proposition is exactly what McCauley continued to reiterate throughout the presentation.
“The U of C, because of the breadth of its mandate, touches many, many ministries. We were presenting to the Ministry of Advanced Education, Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, Infrastructure, Health, Labour, Energy, Agriculture. Think of the sectors of this province that we have a big influence on and can help to support. We were very clear with the messaging of the value proposition of a great university in terms of benefits for society, job creation and economic diversification.
“The University of Calgary is a very, very bright light. We’re about discovery, we’re about creativity and we’re about innovation. We are also a major driver of economic growth and economic diversification, which is a message that is very important for us to translate and transmit. We are an extremely well-managed and fiscally responsible institution with very, very strong leadership.”
The IdeaScale is open and receiving suggestions until Nov. 1.