Last year the university requested a 5.8 per cent increase in its annual grant from the provincial government to cover growing operating costs. But when the provincial budget was tabled in March, the university received just a 2.1 per cent operating grant increase. This left the university with annual expenses that surpassed annual revenue, resulting in a $15.5-million deficit for 2012-13 alone.
The provincial grant accounts for approximately 68 per cent of the university’s operating revenue, and since similar grant increases are expected in the coming years, that deficit is projected to compound and reach $44.5 million by 2016.
In its 2011-12 annual report, the university writes:
“On the expense side, we continue to face the growing costs of employee pension plans, salaries and other benefits, the operating costs of new facilities, and a pressing backlog of maintenance and repair items. On the revenue side, we see a trend across Canada of reduced post-secondary education funding, continued economic volatility, and increasing competition for donor contributions and research dollars.”
This won’t directly affect your tuition
According to the university, “tuition increases have not and will not be used to deal with operating deficits.” Tuition at the U of S is set by the Board of Governors based on three principles: comparability, affordability and enabling quality.
“For over a decade now, the University of Saskatchewan has not balanced its budget on the basis of tuition increases,” the university’s website says.
The operating budget does not include capital expenditures
The operating budget covers the day-to-day expenses of the university, including salaries and services. The capital budget covers building and infrastructure costs.
A deficit is not a debt
Although related, debt and deficits are not the same thing. A deficit occurs when expenditures are higher than income over a certain stretch of time. Debt is the sum of all money owed. The university has a projected deficit of $44.5 million by 2016 but it has an overall debt of about $200 million as of 2013 (mostly due to construction on the health sciences building).
The university announced two major initiatives earlier this month that aim to cut spending: TransformUS and workforce planning.
TransformUS, which was announced via email to all students, faculty and staff in early January, is a plan to review and prioritize all of the university’s academic and administrative programs.
Two task forces will be asked to examine and prioritize academic and non-academic programs and make recommendations to administrators on which programs should receive increased funding, which should merge with other programs, which should see reduced funding and which should be cut.
The plan is modeled after former University of Northern Colorado president Robert C. Dickeson’s program prioritization process. In his book Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services, Dickeson argues that universities should focus their resources on programs they excel in as opposed to spreading resources inadequately throughout too many programs.
Brett Fairbairn, university provost and vice-president academic, said the task forces will base their recommendations on the university’s long-term vision, which is predominantly guided by the Third Integrated Plan.
The Third Integrated Plan, a four-year plan approved under Peter MacKinnon’s leadership, looks to increase the number of aboriginal students enrolling in and attaining degrees from the U of S, to increase scientific research on campus and to improve the university’s national and international image.
The task force recommendations will then undergo review from University Council and the Board of Governors before the Provost’s Committee on Integrated Planning goes forward with implementation plans.
Students will not be allowed to sit on the task forces.
Employee salaries and benefits are easily the university’s largest expense, accounting for about 75 per cent of its operating budget. Therefore, to address the looming $44.5-million deficit, it’s obvious jobs are going to be lost.
Rather than making sweeping cuts, workforce planning is the university’s attempt at allowing colleges and administrative units to strategically rethink their own employee structure.
“Every college and administrative unit is participating and reviewing priorities and positions to find reductions and in some cases, to refocus their workforces within the context of current missions and priorities,” wrote top administrators in a campus-wide email Jan. 17.
On several occasions, administrators have said that “no stone will be left unturned” and that all jobs are on the chopping block. The first major round of job losses — about 40 positions — were announced in early January, which reduced the projected operating budget deficit by approximately $2 million. The next wave of layoffs is expected in April and workforce planning, according to the university, will be ongoing for the next three years.
“Reductions are not based on any specific number of positions, nor are they based on bargaining unit or seniority. Decisions have been and will continue to be made to ensure a workforce that can deliver on the university’s strategic priorities,” the university’s website says.
There will not be a hiring or travel freeze and voluntary early retirement packages are not available, according to the plan.
“Job loss occurs as a normal part of the university’s business, what is unusual now is that our goals and our current financial situation require a new strategic long-term approach to our overall workforce complement,” the university’s website says.
Kenderdine campus temporarily closed
On Nov. 15, an email was sent out to the U of S community stating that activities at the Emma Lake Kenderdine campus are under immediate suspension until 2016. The four-year-long closure of the satellite campus will save the university roughly $500,000.
HumFA clerical staff layoffs in November
Five administrative staff members in the humanities and fine arts were laid off Nov. 27, affecting the art and art history, drama, religion and culture, philosophy and history departments.
40 more layoffs promised in January
In an email sent Jan. 14 to campus, the university announced that it will be cutting approximately 40 jobs within the next three weeks, with more to come in April.
Photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf