BY: KEN WINDER
This article is the second of two articles is looking at the University of Alberta’s new budget model. You can read the first part here. Ken Winder asked Dean Allen Berger several questions about how the new budget model would affect Augustana Campus and what the campus can expect in the next few years.
What is the strategic initiatives fund?
“The strategic initiatives fund is based on the idea that the university should have a pot of money for investments in new important strategic initiatives; proposals that faculty submit that that hold a lot of promise but have some upfront costs. First we have to make a judgment about the promise but then how do we fund those upfront costs.”
“They’re saying, ‘Let’s create a strategic initiatives fund so that we can invest in the future. And if we’re making investments in the future, what better place to be taking that money from for future investments than our investment income.’”
With the new budget model, are we keeping the same amount of money that we were in the previous incremental budget model?
“We don’t know yet. It’s premature for me to be able to tell you here’s how much Augustana will get in the new model. Whatever happens with the allocation of resources in the new model, I think to some extent, I think it would be fair to describe it as a zero-sum-gain (ZSG). A ZSG means that the more people get, the less other people get. So there’s the possibility of winners and losers in a new budget model.”
“On the other hand, the university administration is also saying, ‘We want to cushion that because we recognize our various departments and operations, our various faculties would find it very difficult to adjust to sudden change.’ So whatever happens in year one or year two, I don’t expect there to be a whole lot of change in various financial circumstances for Augustana, at least in the initial implementation of the new budget model. I think far more worrisome for the university than what the implementation of the new budget model mean is what might be coming with a new government.”
What are your concerns with the upcoming provincial election?
“I think that most people expect that the NDP is facing an uphill battle. The UCP is likely running on a platform that is critical of budget deficits and is pushing for a balanced budget across the province. The only way you can produce a balanced budget is by reducing expenditures. How much of that will come form post-secondary education is anybody’s guess. It’s not my job to take sides in an election, nor am I an effective political prognosticator. But it’s readily apparent to me and everyone else, there is a lot of uncertainty as we look ahead with regard to public expenditures for post-secondary education.”
“The NDP government has also imposed a tuition freeze. So there’s also the possibility that a new government will eliminate a tuition-freeze. On the other hand, there is limits to how much you can impose costs on students and their families to solve budgetary challenges should the government reduce its own support. So a lot of uncertainty and I would say that there is reason to be more concerned about those uncertainties than there is to be attached to the implementation of a new budget model.”
We’re facing a structural deficit this year of 4%, then in the following two years, we are supposed to be facing another 2.5% cut and another 2.5% cut. Is this new budget model going to eliminate further budget cuts?
“No. That is fairly conservative planning about what will happen to the provincial grant. What will happen to the provincial grant in the context of what are also increasing costs. The increasing costs come from possibly new collective bargaining agreements, inflation, increasing challenges because of deferred maintenance, things like that.”
“So looking ahead and making conservative assumptions about what might come from the province and anticipating what costs may increase and what will or will not happen with tuition and fees, the university administration has said, “Let’s be conservative, here’s what we should anticipate.” But those anticipations of what the university is overall going to have are different from matters related to the budget model which is, “Okay, once we take that whole pie, whatever it is, how are we going to distribute it?” That’s the budget model.”
As a student, sometimes there’s not a course that will be offered year and a student will not be able to fill degree requirements without it. Do you project that the new budget model will increase course stability at Augustana?
“I don’t think they are directly related. I think there are other things that we are doing at Augustana that will hopefully address those issues for students. One, we’re looking at revisions in curriculum, we’re looking at the extent of requirements for academic programs, and my hope would be that we would see Augustana evolving towards more efficient and effective planning in regards to course offerings so we reduce the number of surprises for students. But that has little to do with the budget model itself.”
The budget model is mainly focused on teaching and research. Would the research allocation incentivize Augusta to increase its research?
“I think it will. It will incentivize grant activity. It should incentivize faculty applying for more grants because it will reward more grant activity. That means not necessarily more research but hopefully more funded research. And if we do it right hopefully that’s funded research that also supports undergraduate research assistants and undergraduate research in general.”
The Dean concluded the interview by stating, “I think for people who are working hard to develop the model are sincere in their desire to build something that’s transparent and equitable. I don’t believe there are intentions to gouge the faculties on space charges. Nonetheless, it’s too early to predict what the formulas might generate in terms of net winners and losers; as I said, it’s a zero sum gain. On the other hand as I also said that we’ve been guaranteed that the transition will be cushioned so nobody has to adjust suddenly to a dramatic change in resources. So we’re going to ease our way to a new budget fine tuning.”