Grant hiked, tuition on hold
By Colleen MacPherson
The increased 2006-07 provincial government grant to U of S, which includes both more operating funds and money to cover any tuition increase next year, not only meets the institution’s financial needs for the coming year, but is a sign of “increasing confidence on the part of government in the University’s ability to manage its own affairs and set priorities.”
That is the view of Provost and Vice-President Academic Michael Atkinson who, in an interview following the April 6 release of the provincial budget, said the Integrated Planning process “has increased the government’s confidence level greatly. They certainly understand us better now then before we embarked on a comprehensive planning exercise.” By clearly articulating the direction the University intends to go with the Integrated Plan, Atkinson said the question for government is no longer what to fund “but more a case of what they can afford.”
While the grant matches the expected cost increases for 2006-07 detailed in the University’s annual Operations Forecast, “I hasten to say those (cost increases) are projections,” he said, best guesses at where expenses like natural gas and salary settlements are likely to go in the coming year.
Unlike last year when the government provided an increase to the University’s operating grant and a special grant to cover tuition costs separately, this year’s seven per cent increase includes both, but it comes with a proviso – the University is expected to maintain tuition at previous levels through 2007-08. “What they’re saying to us is we will give you a grant large enough so you can hold tuition fees at 2004-05 levels,” explained Atkinson.
The concern prior to the budget “was that the province would look after any student tuition increase, but we would end up with a smaller overall grant.” That turned out not to be the case, and Atkinson is relieved: “I would have hated to have to go to everybody and say we’ve reduced your budgets already…and now we face new challenges.”
There is worry, however, about the government’s ability to continue with tuition grants. Atkinson said indications are it will provide similar tuition funding again next year “but we have no details as to what that will look like. What we do know is that the moment it stops, in the succeeding year tuition will have to go up.”
Asked about the budget implications of the government grant increase, Jim Spinney, director of budget planning in the Integrated Planning Office, said the seven per cent increase translates to about $12 million for operations and tuition. He explained there might be confusion around the seven per cent figure: “A seven per cent increase in the operating grant and a zero per cent increase in tuition is the same as a 4.7 per cent increase in the operating grant and a 4.7 per cent increase in tuition.”
The provincial budget also contained a commitment from the government for $3.56 million to support accreditation and resident training in the College of Medicine, about $520,000 to increase capacity in the College of Nursing, and $215,000 in matching scholarship funds.
Taken together, the University’s operating grant from the province will climb to about $188 million in 2006-07 from about $172 million in the previous fiscal year, said Spinney.
“It’s not exactly what we asked for (in the Operations Forecast),” he said, “but they did a very good job recognizing our needs, and meeting our needs. Out of that seven per cent, the government was able to provide us with what we identified as needing for operations grant, tuition rates and natural gas rate increases.”
Absent from the provincial budget was any money to address the University’s $15 million high-priority asbestos abatement program (see related story below).
As for the tuition grant, Spinney explained students will see no increase in the cost of their education, except in a small number of very specific cases. In the College of Commerce, tuition for students in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program will climb to $21,000 from $17,000, and those in the Master of Professional Accounting (MPAcc) program will pay $14,000, up from $12,000 this year.
There will also be a doubling of the differential fee charged to international graduate students, to $200 from $100. Atkinson explained the increase will cover service improvements for those students. He pointed out the U of S is one of the few universities in Canada with no differential tuition for international students, and its grad student tuition is among the lowest in the country.
As Spinney and others now move into preparation of the University budget for 2006-07 which will go to the Board of Governors in May, there is continued confidence the institution is on target to meet the financial objectives laid out in the multi-year budget framework.
“We’re doing what we said we would do,” he said. “We’re making adjustments and our intention is still to balance the budget for 06-07. The University community should expect to see a budget that continues to be on track with the multi-year budget prepared for the first planning cycle.”