MRU braces for budget crunch
Enrolment reduced by 320 students
Get used to fewer students wandering the halls of Mount Royal University.
Manuel Mertin, MRU’s acting provost, revealed last month that the university has 260 more Full-Load Equivalent (FLE) en- rolments, or about 320 students, than current funding allows.
“The students who are here right now are fine,” Mertin emphasized, saying that the planned reduction will come from Fall 2013 student enrolments.
Each FLE represents a student taking a full load of five courses per semester. Given the average class size of 28 students at MRU, the university ends up with 88 classes per semester more than what will fit the budget.
“To adjust for this lower number of classes, we are planning to reduce positions through attrition over the next few years, mostly through retirement,”
Mertin said, noting that current forecasts estimate a loss of 17 faculty positions.
“It’s a delayed reaction,” Mertin said. “It’s manageable; we should have done the FLE reduction two years ago. We’re doing it now.”
While the reneging of provincial funds is “the underlying cause” of this current enrolment crunch, another factor, according to Mertin, was the institution’s inability to “perfectly adjust” when the planned degrees had to be scaled back after their second years.
“Understand that we had to roll out a third year for the large, originally planned cohort, while cutting back the intake for a new first year cohort on reduced funding,” Mertin said.
“The following year we had to roll out a large fourth year while cutting back a reduced year two. This does not just affect courses in majors, but service courses in other faculties, general education, etcetera.”
When applying for the university’s new bachelor degrees, the university only asked for the government to cover 85 per cent of the funding other universities received for similar programs.
“Typically, undergraduate programs to some extent fund graduate programs,” Mertin said. “That was a problem that we were not going to have.”
Four years on, and the university is now seeing serious strains to its budget. Typically, the provincial government funds the third and fourth years of a program to a higher degree than the first and second years. In MRU’s case, however, that funding increase never materialized when students started entering the upper years.
Despite promises of a two per cent increase to education funding by the government of Alberta, reports coming out of Edmonton indicate that cuts to Alberta’s post-secondary system are far more likely.
“If the government reneges on that two per cent, we’re into a whole new cutting game again,” Mertin said.
Political pundits are pointing to the replacement of rookie MLA Steve Khan as Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education as a sign that the province will be making deep cuts to education.
Khan was replaced by deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, a veteran of previous Tory govern- ments, in what is being called an effort to help tackle the province’s expected $6-billion deficit. Without additional funding for increased intake, Mertin said new majors at MRU will be problematic.
Despite plans for new majors in science, art, and business unveiled in the university’s 2012 comprehensive institutional plan, it appears unlikely they will be implemented within the plan’s 3-year time frame. Without the increased student population needed to fill existing programs, Mertin said new ones are far less likely.
“If you only have 15 or 20 stu- dents starting in a major, then its cost in the upper years is astronomical,” Mertin said. “So it’s not just an issue of getting the degrees approved, but getting a large enough intake to make the degrees viable.”