U of S takes additional measures to address funding shortfall

The University of Saskatchewan will reduce senior leadership salaries and benefits and spend its reserve funds far below the recommended level for public institutions in order to meet a projected budget deficit in the coming year, President Peter Stoicheff told the institution’s Board of Governors last week.

The board approved the deficit budget following a steep reduction in the university’s base budget grant, announced by the provincial government in March. The university already had moved forward on several initiatives to address the sudden contraction of its budget, including the closure of the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development—whose budget was eliminated by the province—and the offer of voluntary buyout packages to staff members. Other initiatives are planned. 

It is an unsustainable situation, Stoicheff said, and while such immediate actions are necessary to manage the shortfall, it is critical that the university make decisions with the long-term future of both the university and the province at the forefront.

“Following the substantial cut in our provincial grant, we must make strategic, deliberate decisions that provide sustainable answers to the serious financial challenge we currently face,” Stoicheff said. “Given our history of strong financial management, we can manage the situation in the short term, but it is not sustainable.”

He noted the university would do everything possible to protect the student experience and the discovery mission, but that all options would be considered. He also said the university must continue to fuel its ambitions related to Indigenization and internationalization, and must stay firm in its vision to design new programs, support new research opportunities and engage with the national science agenda. He committed to finding new sources of funding to invest in critical growth areas to serve the needs of the province and the nation. 

“The assumption is, of course, that we need to do less with less,” Stoicheff told the board. “And it is true that to an extent we will need to do exactly that. We will need to be extremely careful about hiring, about resourcing particular academic initiatives and about undertaking new cutting-edge projects that the province needs. That’s today’s reality. We are dealing with the stress of that reality every day.

“But we also need to continue to think big. If we can look back at this period and say that we did not retreat into ourselves, that would be a success. We need to be purposeful about our decisions, mindful of our long-term goals, committed to our vision and mission and values. The province, and the people of this province, need us to succeed.”

In doing so, the university would continue to be an economic driver in Saskatchewan, where it contributes more than $1 billion annually to the economy. Interim Provost and Vice-President Academic Michael Atkinson noted that the U of S drives innovation in the province through research and unique facilities such as the Canadian Light Source, Fedoruk Centre and VIDO-InterVac.

As a trusted steward of taxpayers’ money, Atkinson said, the university has always been committed to using its resources strategically and carefully to continue building on the important work critical to the province and beyond in areas such as human, animal and environmental health, food and water security, agriculture, the arts and Indigenous engagement.

“Any measures we take to address this financial shortfall must not jeopardize our outstanding research that is actively tackling real-world problems in Saskatchewan and well beyond our borders, and our commitment to a high-quality student experience,” Atkinson said.

Over and above the economic benefits, Atkinson noted that having a top medical-doctoral university creates world-class educational and research opportunities for students in Saskatchewan, from across Canada and beyond, attracts tremendous talent from around the world and builds the province’s reputation worldwide. He added that the significant reduction in provincial funding could put at risk the accreditation of the university’s College of Medicine, that trains the physicians that serve Saskatchewan.

Vice-President Finance and Resources Greg Fowler said that, although centrally driven initiatives will help reduce the operating deficit, colleges, schools and administrative units will be responsible for determining how they will address their budget reductions.

“We are making enormous progress in putting into place new budgeting and planning systems that will serve us well far into the future,” Fowler said. “We will need the support from the entire university community, our stakeholders and our partners to find solutions, to rise to this challenge and to be the university we must be for the future of this province.” 

Frequently asked questions: U of S operating budget 2017-18

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