Further provincial cuts to universities possible

N.B. government indicates less funding for operating grants for 2016-17

On Feb. 2, the provincial government will table its 2016 budget which laid out six key initiatives including reductions on provincial education spending. Possible cuts to post-secondary institution operating grants in the 2016-17 year may range from as much as $15-45 million.

In 2015, tuition and grant freezes were implemented by the provincial government. New Brunswick’s four universities received less revenue than expected. At Mount Allison, students have already begun to feel the effects of the university’s cuts through issues such as the reduced library budget, which resulted in a cancelled subscription to journals such as  Canadian Journal of Political Science, and a limited ability to buy books.

Dr. Dave Thomas, international relations department head, said there has also been a move away from replacing professors on sabbatical in recent years. “Departments have been left to fend for themselves,” he said. “This has a very real impact on faculty workload and class size.”

Robert Inglis, vice-president finance and administration, said that cuts to the operating budget “means we will be doing less.”

According to Chris Milner, Mt. A budget manager, the university faced significant challenges in developing a budget last year. “We’ve been squeezing and squeezing, it and gets progressively more difficult,” said Milner.

“[N.B.’s Strategic Program review] identified the development of a new, performance-based funding model for universities as the method being considered to save those funds,” the New Brunswick Student Alliance (NBSA) wrote in a Jan. 8 statement. Modernization of funding formulas, allocation devices used to distribute basic funding, was discussed in “Choices to Move New Brunswick Forward,” a document released by the government as part of its Strategic Program Review.

According to the current New Brunswick post-secondary funding formula, 95 per cent of funding is allocated through unrestricted operating assistance, while the remaining 5 per cent goes to restricted operating assistance. Out of that 95 per cent unrestricted assistance, 75 per cent is given to Mt. A as a flat fund, based on previous funding. The remaining 25 per cent is granted through provincial enrolment numbers – if Mt. A has more students than the three other universities, it will receive a larger percentage of the total sum. This fiscal year, Mt. A received a total of approximately $21 million from the provincial government, which represents just under half of the university’s total available revenue.

Inglis could not say whether a new funding formula was needed, but indicated that he would like to work with the provincial government if a new formula is in the makings. “They have not contacted anyone at Mt. A about a new funding formula,” he said.

Annie Sherry, MASU vice-president external affairs and chair of the NBSA, said a new funding formula was needed. The NBSA was surprised when a Jan. 8 news release indicated that one of the main initiatives might be to cut operating grants. “The NBSA had been anticipating a new funding formula,” said Sherry. “This is not a formula.”

New Brunswick has run deficits for the last eight years and has the third-highest debt-to-GDP ratio in Canada. The provincial government is now spending more on servicing the debt than it’s investing in post-secondary education.

“Post-secondary education in New Brunswick, and maybe especially at Mount Allison, is a real shining light in a province that is struggling economically,” said Thomas. The Liberal government has stated that it is committed to developing a framework which ensures that post-secondary education is sustainable in the long term. Sherry said in the next decade, over 60 per cent of jobs created in-province are expected to require post-secondary education.

Until Feb. 2, nothing will be confirmed. “They’ve floated all of these things out there so they can get a reaction out of people, and the things that are most offensive to people they might hold off on, or not do, and they might go ahead with the things that didn’t seem to generate as much backlash or controversy,” said Thomas.

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