The bottom line
Over 400 MRU employees attended the budget town hall meeting at the Ross Glen Hall on Oct. 27 but the expected controversy over potential cutbacks did not materialize.
Budget numbers were presented by university president Dave Marshall and VP of administrative services Richard Roberts.
“This is the time of year when we start to make some guesses about what kind of economic environment we’re going to find ourselves working in,” Roberts said. “We start getting all the info we can from everywhere and we make our guesses as to what the environment will be and the variables that will affect our money coming in and going out.”
Planning this year will be different from previous years according to Roberts. Budget decisions are usually announced in December. However, financial insecurity in the province, exacerbated by what Roberts said the media calls “very dire circumstances the government finds itself in financially,” are changing how MRU is looking at its budget planning.
“It does send ripples down,” Roberts conceded, adding that he thinks it’s important that “[staff and students] know exactly what we know at this point, what our guesses are and what those mean for 2010 and 2011.”
Roberts explained the university’s major sources of income are tuition and government grants. Each government department, Advanced Education included, gets an annual allocation of funds and are given budget targets.
Those departments then make decisions on how their targets will be achieved and how funds will be allocated to the receiving institutions.
Neither of those things has happened yet, however. Advanced Education has not yet been told what its budget expectations will be for the coming two years so, Roberts explained, MRU is doing its budget planning based on past certainties and future expectations.
This means that MRU can’t know what affects those budget expectations will have on the university. “We do not know what the trickle down will be until the budget is released in March.”
Roberts said, “That’s the way it is every year. We always do a budget based on our guesses.” Roberts pointed out that MRU’s past guesses have been very close to reality.
Despite that, MRU is budget planning based on probabilities at this point and, in the last few years MRU has “been on quite a roll,” with the budget situation. To some degree, the previous years’ flexibility has provided some elasticity for the coming two years.
“There’s no doubt that the provincial financial situation is going to impact us,” Roberts said. That will impact the coming two years in relation to the university’s spending.
Roberts said this year the provincial government would expect a two-year target and so MRU will be developing a two-year budget.
MRU has yet to decide what it will do with the $5 million it has set aside. Roberts says the university is forecasting a 4.5 per cent shortfall — amounting to a $9.5 million gap.
“Given the uncertainty around the financial situation, we don’t want to commit to any new positions until we have funding certainty,” Roberts added.
However, despite the expected budget crunch, the university will proceed with the implementation of the new degrees. Roberts reiterated that the university expects to have a much better idea early in the new year of what funds will be available to deal with staffing related to the new degrees. “The government will give us the heads up as soon as they can, but that won’t happen until the budgets have passed,” he noted.
Major building projects are also set to proceed.
“The funding for building comes out of different pots and certainly, from our perspective, buildings are needed anyways, so we don’t want to slow down those important projects,” Roberts confirmed.
MRU has committed to several funding initiatives including the library and learning centre and the centennial campaign, as well as the scholarships and bursaries related to those initiatives.
“We want to continue to position MRU as an employer of choice,” Roberts stressed. He explained that recruitment and retention will be keys in the coming years.
“We’re successful because of our people, so we want to make sure we keep the great people we have and that we recruit great people coming in to work at Mount Royal,” Roberts said.
Because of what’s going on externally, MRU is looking to restructure the budget forecast.
The budget will be split into two main categories: the core budget which includes the existing programs, support and revenue generating areas; and the second category being the funding MRU will receive for the rollout of the new degrees.
Roberts confirmed the bottom line is that the overall budget will grow. The university will be expanding in areas related to the new degree programs but at the same time, contracting as it relates to the MRU’s core budget.
Judging by the very few questions asked of President Marshall and Roberts, support staff seemed very comfortable with the statistics and planning presented. A second town hall meeting is being planned to further discuss budget issues.