The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

University shortchanged in Sask budget: with smaller than expected grant increase, service cuts possible

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After receiving a smaller operating grant increase than it had asked for from the provincial government, the University of Saskatchewan is expecting a significant deficit for 2012-13.

“We were looking for 5.8 per cent and what we received was around two per cent,” said Richard Florizone, the university’s vice-president finance and resources.

Rob Norris, the provincial minister of advanced education, says the government actually provided a 5.4 per cent increase to the U of S. This is because in addition to the two per cent increase to the operating grant, the government has provided extra funding for a number of special projects, from the university’s renal transplant program to the Saskatchewan Advantage scholarships.

Despite the extra provincial funding for specific projects, Florizone estimates the university will face a $10- to $15-million deficit for the 2012-13 year. University officials had been planning for a budget shortfall of $1.175 million, but with the news that the operating grant increase is just enough to cover inflation, that deficit will be much larger.

When asked if the deficit would mean cuts to services, Florizone could not provide a definitive answer.

“The discussions we’ve had at the senior level haven’t really ruled anything out at this point,” he said. “We’re very much in that idea-generation mode.”

The recently released Third Integrated Plan will provide some guidance for university officials, Florizone added. It lists several areas the university wants to focus on in an effort to increase its profile, from research to aboriginal engagement.

“We basically have an expression as a community of what we see as our priorities…. If people are wondering what our priorities are and where we’re going to focus, it’s very much in that document.”

The Third Integrated Plan was created with input from members of the university community and is intended to provide a guideline for making the U of S a competitive scholarly presence in Canada. The priorities listed in the plan are unlikely to see funding cuts since they represent what the university community considers essential.

Florizone largely confirmed this by saying that as officials look over the budget they will consider not only how things “contribute to the budget, but how they can advance that strategic plan.”

Florizone cited rising salary costs and more need for building maintenance when asked why the university had sought such a large increase to its operating grant.

While salaries and benefits to staff take up around 70 per cent of the university’s operating budget, building maintenance costs have increased dramatically in recent years. This is due in large part to the fact that the university should be spending two to three times more on maintenance each year, a number Florizone says comes from comparing the university’s maintenance spending to that of private businesses.

Operating costs are usually separate from things like building construction and maintenance — called capital expenses — but the university moved some of its maintenance costs into its operating grant with the creation of the RenewUS program.

Nevertheless, the provincial government did not see fit to increase the operating grant for maintenance costs. Instead, Florizone says, the government has asked the university to fund $90 million of its capital expenses through debt.

Florizone says he understands the government’s desire not to spend beyond its means.

“I think the overall message is that government at the highest level is trying to deliver a balanced budget, and at the university community we understand that, because we do the same thing with our own finances. ”

[box type=”info”]The university will hold a town hall meeting on its budget deficit Tuesday, April 3 at 10:30 a.m. in Convocation Hall.[/box]

Graphic: Brianna Whitmore/The Sheaf

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