On March 19, the Saskatchewan government announced the 2014–15 budget with increases in funding to post-secondary institutions across the province.
The U of S provincial operating grant is set to grow two per cent from the 2013–14 fiscal year, with an additional $6.3 million bringing the university’s total grant to $326.5 million. The increase is in line with what university officials expected based on previous years’ grants.
“Given the context of a provincial budget where the overall spending of the government went down, to have a two per cent increase in our base operating grant is really pretty good,” said Provost and Vice-President Academic Brett Fairbairn.
U of S Students’ Union Vice-President Operations and Finances Jenna Moellenbeck was disappointed with the budget.
“Our university needs more than two per cent to continue operating the way that we do,” Moellenbeck said, adding that an increase of at least two-and-a-half per cent from last year’s grant would be required in order to meet the rate of inflation. “I’ve been told their two per cent from this year is very generous, but is it sustainable for the future? I’m not sold on it yet.”
Fairbairn said that university expenditures go up by four per cent annually on average. Given that university costs such as workforce planning and labour agreements are largely predictable, Fairbairn believes that efficient planning can help to avoid budgetary issues even if provincial funding falls below rates of inflation. However, Fairbairn said some changes are needed if the university is to remain financially stable.
“In order for the university to be sustainable, we need to diversify our revenue. We need to reduce our expenditures and we need to learn how to prioritize year in and year out.”
The U of S funds come from $668.9 million allocated for post-secondary institutions’ operating grants and targeted funding — an increase of $16.8 million from last year. This number includes $151.9 million for technical schools like the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology and $28.3 million for regional colleges.
The Canadian Light Source, VIDO-InterVac and the Water Research Chair received a total of $17 million.
Up $18.5 million from the last year’s budget, $216 million in provincial backing has been put towards student initiatives heading into the new fiscal year. This investment includes $82 million toward the Graduate Retention Program, which aims to encourage recent post-secondary graduates to either remain in Saskatchewan or to relocate to the province if studying elsewhere by offering them the opportunity to regain up to $20,000 in tuition costs over a seven-year period.
Other student programs in the budget include the Saskatchewan Student Aid Fund with $32.5 million and $37.4 million for continuing provincial tax credits in relation to costs of education and student loan interest.
The budget also allots for $6.5 million in capital investments toward the ongoing construction of the Health Sciences Building.
Though the budget includes funds for post-secondary education across Saskatchewan, Moellenbeck is skeptical that such initiatives will be enough for students facing rising tuition costs.
“I know the university is trying to keep tuition and grants from the government completely separate, but we are seeing grants not being as high as the university needs and we are seeing tuition going up anywhere from five to 10 to 15 per cent,” Moellenbeck said. “A lot of students have trouble affording tuition as it is and now it’s continuing to rise. It would be great if there was more support from the government.”
Graphic: Cody Schumacher/Graphics Editor