President addresses budget at campus forum

Indira Samarasekera remains optimistic in wake of provincial budget reduction, urges “disruptive thinking” for longer-term change.


Watch President Indira Samarasekera's spring campus forum.

(Edmonton) At her spring campus forum today, University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera offered her thoughts about what the provincial budget means for the university over the next two years.

Speaking to the university community just days after the provincial government announced a cut in the Campus Alberta grant for post-secondary institutions in Alberta, Samarasekera said she was optimistic about the coming months and years in Alberta. “I was encouraged by the budget, particularly because it signals a transformation, a recognition of the need to move away from the ups and downs of oil prices, and gives us some long-term flexibility in funding.”

Samarasekera took time to clarify that the 1.4 per cent reduction in the university’s operating budget this year—equating to an $8-million shortfall—was over and above the 1.5 per cent cut specified in the university’s Comprehensive Institutional Plan approved by the U of A board March 13.

“We budgeted a 1.5 per cent reduction to all faculties and admin units for 2015-16. This was required because our costs are going up, and we needed to cut our costs to carry a manageable $2.6-million operating deficit this year. We are not allowed to run a deficit on our consolidated budget; we can run a small deficit on our operating budget.

“We are not going to redo the budget in light of what has happened. Everything that has been approved will carry on. The government has asked us to make a plan to deal with the $8-million shortfall. We will continue to be in constant communication and we will look to deal with the $8 million. We are absolutely not changing the budget that was passed in March.”

Samarasekera noted that the U of A was given some time to plan, as opposed to two years ago when the university had no warning and no time to adjust to the cuts. She was also encouraged by the $14 million in student aid programs to ensure access to post-secondary education, and by a $50-million fund to help Alberta’s post-secondary institutions manage the transition to new financial realities. Although the terms for accessing that fund are not yet available, she said administration will be meeting with deans to look at how it may be used to mitigate the cuts over the next two years.

In response to a question about how the U of A could broaden its revenue base, Samarasekera said, “We have to be more thoughtful about how we bring in more revenue. Other places have done it, south of the border. We have simply not had disruptive discussions, disruptive thinking. Why can’t we be the destination for every citizen in Alberta who wants to take courses in the summer or on weekends?”

Samarasekera emphasized that advocating for the U of A’s contributions and impact on Alberta remains among her top priorities, and that she would continue to advocate for the institution with government and policy-makers during the remaining months of her term as president.

“I am optimistic about the future. The University of Alberta is a rich university. Rich in excellence, reputation, impact. This has been increasing in spite of the ups and downs, and I know we will be a critical part of the province’s future.”