Gov’t grant increased as expected but budget changes continue

The University of Saskatchewan’s provincial operating grant for 2013-14 is close to what was expected but it does not alter the need to address projected budget shortfalls.

By Kris Foster

In its budget, released March 20, the provincial government announced an increase of $35.8 million to the U of S, including an increase of about 2.1 per cent to the annual operating grant, cash for building renewal and maintenance, and support for specific initiatives. While she expressed appreciation for the province's investment, President Ilene Busch-Vishniac said in a news release the university would continue to focus on adjusting its annual operating budget with the aim of achieving financial sustainability.

"Our attentions will still be focused on streamlining and seeking efficiencies in what we do and strengthening our focus on the areas we have identified as most important," she said. Speaking to Council March 21, Busch-Vishniac said that from her perspective, "the university did very well," particularly considering the seven-per-cent cut to post-secondary funding recently announced in Alberta and other financial challenges faced by institutions across the country. The grant increase "speaks volumes about the commitment of our government to our continued success."

Ginger Appel, director of budget strategy and planning in the office of Integrated Planning and Assessment, said ongoing discussions with government representatives about provincial growth forecasts and about U of S priorities assist the university in making projections at budget time. "Having that good working relationship helps us anticipate a bit more accurately what kinds of grant increases to expect. This year, we planned for about two per cent, which is what we received. The next step is to use what we know for sure about our government support to shape our operating budget for the coming year."

The grant increase announced in the provincial budget includes both operating and capital funding. Of note is $4 million earmarked for continued renovation and construction of the Health Science complex as well as $4 million for operating the facility. Funds were also provided for an increase to the number of seats in the College of Medicine.

Busch-Vishniac noted in the release the U of S will continue to work with the province to secure funding for upkeep of university buildings as well as to address deferred maintenance issues.

Provost Brett Fairbairn also spoke about the budget in his report to Council, pointing out the government continues to provide funding for initiatives like the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation, the Global Institute for Food Security, the water research chair and the cyclotron facility. He added the provincial government will help address accessibility for students through additional funding for student aid, the Saskatchewan Advantage Scholarship and the Graduate Retention Program.

He also pointed out that the Board of Governors announced tuition rates for the coming academic year on March 14, almost a week ahead of the provincial budget, a move that supports the university's principle of not balancing the books with tuition. "We don't need to know what's in the provincial budget to set tuition fees."

Appel said university officials will do a detailed analysis of the grant announcement over the coming weeks with the institution's 2013-14 operating budget expected to go before the board for approval in May.