Students raise concerns about the APR
Over the past week, University of Regina Provost and VP (Academic) Thomas Chase took part in two town hall forums to discuss the university’s Academic Program Review, a project U of R administration believes will aid them in reallocating the university’s resources in preparation for looming funding deficiencies from the provincial government.
The forums – one held by URSU, the other by university admin – are believed to be the administration’s response to heavy criticism over their lack of public transparency during the course of the APR, which began in 2009. Until recently, most students have been left in the dark regarding the evaluation, and information that was open to the public was largely inaccessible by reasonable means.
Both forums had lengthy presentations by Chase, explaining the university’s rational behind the APR, followed by Q&A sessions open to the public.
According to university administration, the provincial government provided the U of R with an operating grant of $100.86 million – $3.6 million short of what they needed. The university does not expect this situation to improve next year, and indeed Chase believes that the university will continue to experience “gradually contracting government support” as time moves on.
“This therefore creates an increased reliance on tuition and fees,” Chase said. “This means that enrollment will become increasingly critical to the financial health of this institution. If our campus resources – that is, our budget pool – remain essentially static, how do we respond to student demand as it is expressed in the enrollments that they are marking?”
The answer, according to university administration, is to essentially ‘cut the fat’ or “ask all departments to look for efficiencies in their programs.” The university has suggested that cutting down on undersubscribed programs while merging the 10 campus faculties to create five. The university is also planning to bear the brunt of the funding shortfall by cutting the discretionary budgets across all faculties, which make up approximately 5.6 per cent of the total budget. Salaries and benefits make up for 75 per cent of total spending at the U of R
Convincing the provincial government that funding education leads to a prosperous province
The university requests a yearly budget increase of around 5 per cent from the provincial government each year – this year that amounted to $5.4 million. With a provincial grant this year that undercuts that figure by $3.6 million, and the potential for no budget increases in the coming years, some questioned if the U of R’s administration has done an adequate job of conveying the financial needs of the university to the provincial government? Chase said that the lines of communication are open.
“We are in almost constant contact with the provincial government. We talk to them weekly and sometimes daily in as a persuasive a way as we can.” – Thomas Chase
“We are in almost constant contact with the provincial government,” said Chase. “We talk to them weekly and sometimes daily in as a persuasive a way as we can.”
Chase pointed to a report by the Conference Board of Canada that outlines the social and economic benefits of the University of Regina. He said the university presented this report to the government when they were making their pitch as to “why the government should invest in the University of Regina.”
The Conference Board’s report indicates that University of Regina Graduates will earn $2 billion more than non-grads resulting in $260 million in extra provincial income tax revenue alone over the next 40 years – assuming they can maintain their current rate of 1,826 graduates per year. With the provincial government shortchanging post-secondary funding in both Regina and Saskatoon, it appears that the U of R’s argument is falling on deaf ears.
“One of the questions I have been asked is ‘What can we do as a campus community?’” Chase said to the audience. “Answering as an individual, what I think is that we can do is make our case quietly, articulately, and in a fact-based way about the benefits to the province of Saskatchewan in investing in post-secondary education.”
However, that approach does not seem to be working. Saskatchewan’s economic growth is faster now than almost any other time over the past 15 years, according to Statistics Canada. The province’s GDP growth was second in the nation last year. Despite this, funding increases for the U of R remain below the required 5 per cent, contributing to the university’s financial decline as inflation rises.
“The ministry has asked us to prepare scenarios of two per cent or zero per cent increases,” Chase said when asked what the administration’s discussions with the government have achieved. “I think they are reasonable people in most cases, and they recognize that post-secondary education is important. Some of these people are faced with difficult allocation decisions about how to spend the province’s money.”
URSU VP of Student Affairs, Mike Young, noted in 1990 the University of Regina had 8,500 students and one vice-president, today the U of R is home to 13,000 students while the number of vice-presidents has increased to five along with additional administrative assistants.
The salaries and benefits of university employees make up for 75 per cent of the budget – roughly $75 million in fact. Over the last nine years, salaries for faculty instruction increased by 60 per cent, while non-faculty administrative salaries increased by 159 per cent over the same period. Faculty admin salaries went up as much as 200.6 per cent. With the vast majority of university spending going towards salaries and benefits, it seems that cutting some salaries would be a good way to trim spending. That is out of the question at the moment however, as admin and faculty salaries are dictated by collectively bargained contracts.
Contracts aside, the steep increase in administrative positions and salaries raised several eyebrows at the student forum last Monday.
“What would you say to someone who says to you ‘look, the administration is getting much larger compared to the faculty. Maybe we should be freezing the growth of the administration and transferring those resources into the faculty?’” Young asked.
“Although we are always looking for efficiencies … we are spending less on administration than our sister institutions,” Chase said. “Also, as we increase the faculty count, we also need to increase the number of deans and associate deans. For example, the introduction of the nursing program meant that we needed to add another dean. There is also a move to give more responsibilities to the associate deans in each faculty. So that is a partial explanation, and we are conscious of it.”