MRU copes with provincial budget cuts
‘Not going to be the same as before,’ Docherty warns
Mount Royal University is scrambling to cope with drastic and unexpected cuts after the Government of Alberta released its budget on March 7.
The budget announced a 7.3 per cent cut to MRU’s provincial funding as a cost-cutting measure, which was necessary to deal with the province’s unexpected deficit, according to Alberta’s Minister of Enterprise and Advanced Education, Thomas Lukaszuk.
“It should not be a surprise to anyone that when we see a drop in the price of the commodities — when we see a revenue drop over a few months of six billion dollars — that this is going to have repercussions across our provincial budget,” Lukaszuk said.
“We actually increased the healthcare and human services budget, but that meant other areas had to give,” Lukaszuk said, adding that the current budget is a “one year picture” and the Progressive Conservative government has steadily increased the post-secondary budget over the past ten years.
Lukaszuk would not say if the province would consider restoring funding to post-secondary institutions should economic conditions in Alberta improve, noting future increases would depend on how well post-secondary administrators deal with the cuts.
He pointed out that students cover 25 per cent of a university’s budget, and taxpayers are responsible for the remaining 75 per cent.
Cut the bureaucracy
Lukaszuk said his position on the matter was clear: “We will not be increasing tuition or funding until both students and taxpayers are convinced we are running as efficient an education system as we possibly can.”
Instead, he said he expects the cuts, amounting to slightly less than $6.5-million, to come mostly from MRU’s bureaucracy.
“We, as a government, should not be interfering with course content or academia,” he said. “Why not look at the positive side of this and see it as a catalyst for reviewing how we operate education in this province, and try to find efficiencies?”
Lukaszuk said he expects administrators to mirror the actions taken by Alberta’s teachers, who accepted wage freezes for the coming three years and cut down on bureaucracy, “changing the way education is delivered to students so the maximum amount of every dollar is going to the students and their classrooms.”
Reduced to a DeVry
However, MRU President David Docherty said cutting too far into bureaucracy will hurt students.
“We could shut down all of athletic and recreation services — no varsity teams, no gym, no pool for anybody to use, no wellness services, and we’d still need a few million dollars,” Docherty said.
“You take away all those services outside the classroom and you reduce yourself to a DeVry, where people come to take classes and then go home. That’s not what a university does,” he said. “The root of the word is universe; it is a community.”
Docherty said Mount Royal only spent seven per cent of its total budget on administrative services — so it was impossible for Mount Royal to make cuts to just its bureaucracy and meet Lukaszuk’s expected cuts.
Lukaszuk said larger institutions in Alberta spent only four per cent of their budget on ad- ministration. He added he did not see the need for the 26 schools of Campus Alberta to duplicate ser- vices the government believes can be done elsewhere.
“Does it matter to students whether or not their professor’s pay cheques are cut on their campus? What about admissions, or marketing, or student unions? Is there a way we can consolidate those?” Lukaszuk said.
Docherty noted there are a number of administrative functions that can’t be outsourced be- cause they are part of MRU’s mandate from the province. “We need to have someone do freedom of information for us. We can’t get away with that, because legally we have to have one.”
Likewise, Docherty pointed to positions like the university’s copyright officer, risk assessment manager, safety personnel within the science faculty, institutional planners, and the Iniskim Centre.
“We can’t not have these positions, or else we’re breaking the law.”
Docherty said he is not able to discuss where cuts at MRU will be coming from. “I know it’s nerve- wracking, but until we’re ready to have discussions with them, I don’t want them to hear about speculation anywhere else.”
While Docherty is able to announce parking fees will increase — despite expected protests from students and faculty — he cannot yet make announcements about what other areas are being considered.
“Right now, we’re looking at positions that are vacant that don’t have to be filled,” Docherty said. “Like, can we meld two departments in to one, so can we have only one director?”
Both the Alberta Liberals and the New Democrats argued for increased taxes instead of the cuts that the Progressive Conservative government put forward.
The Alberta government did not raise any taxes in its latest budget. “At the end of the day, we have to do the responsible thing,” Lukuszak said.
‘Best and brightest’ left behind
Kaylene McTavish, Students’ Association of Mount Royal University president, wants voters to know how much post-secondary education means to students.
McTavish plans to run a social media campaign connecting current and former post-secondary students.
The campaign will invite students to share the value that post-secondary education has had in their lives.
“We know that post-secondary has huge impacts on the economy and the sustainability our province, so it’s important that voters really understand the value that education has in Alberta.”
One-tenth of Calgary’s population attends a post-secondary institution as a full-time, part-time or continuing education student, and the numbers are similar in other major cities around the province.
“I know that post-secondary education is drastically changing in this province, and the students are not part of the conversation,” McTavish said.
“We have students who want to attend Mount Royal, and they’re being turned away,” she said. “It’s really important that we convey what each of those turned-away students means to the future of our province. We’re sending away our best and brightest.”
Docherty called the problem faced by post-secondary in Alberta an “access issue,” adding, “We have the lowest participation rate in the post-secondary system in the country.”
“I’d love to provide spaces, but I can’t do it for 26 cents on the dollar,” he said. “We’re turning away three or four qualified applicants for every student we admit. People are going to Fort McMurray because they cannot get into school.”
Won’t be the same
Docherty promised current MRU students that they will be able to complete their degrees at the university. “We have an obligation to students, even those who arrived this January, to see them through.” Every current student will be allowed to finish, even if their program is being cut.
This is why Docherty sees cutting programs as an inefficient way to deal with this crunch. “You’re not getting the savings all at one, you’re saving it over five.”
Ultimately, Docherty said that MRU students can go home knowing they have a place to come back to next year. “But there will be changes next year,” Docherty warned, “and Mount Royal’s not going be the same as it was before.”