University of Alberta responds to the province's budget

The following is a message from Carl Amrhein, provost of the University of Alberta, to the university and the community.

As you undoubtedly know, the Alberta government recently tabled the provincial budget in the legislature. The good news for the University of Alberta is that there are no surprises. The zero per cent increase to our Campus Alberta Grant for 2011–12, as announced in the budget, was what the government told us to expect, and thus, is what we have been preparing for with the university’s budget. Unfortunately, the zero per cent will result in an actual decrease of at least two per cent across the academy because there is no allowance for inflation or other cost growth.

I want to take this opportunity to go over the specific aspects of the provincial budget that are salient for the university and outline any particular implications for the U of A.

Here are the budget highlights as they affect the university:

·         Lights On Funding

The province confirmed lights on funding for the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy and for the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science at $9.8 million base, with an additional $2.2 million in soft funding (which will eventually be rolled into base). This provides us with funding as originally agreed to by the province when the decision to go ahead with both projects was made. This is particularly good news as we are now able to proceed with our scheduled occupancy plans for both of these important projects.

·         AHFMR Transition

The government, via Alberta Innovates, is providing $118 million over eight years for AHFMR transition funding. We will be communicating a great deal more about this, certainly to those affected by the changes. Over the eight years, the university will work toward securing an agreement for base funding on the positions affected by the AHFMR changes. The $118 million is directed funding to be used only for AHFMR transition.

·         Infrastructure Maintenance Funding

We received a small increase of $1 million in infrastructure maintenance funding for a total of $22 million for 2011–12. This funding, too, can only be used for its allotted purpose.

·         $20 million for Post-Secondary Sector

The budget makes available to the province’s entire post-secondary education sector $20 million in order to relieve enrolment pressures. The university was informed by the government that these funds will not be distributed until the fall and the monies will be allocated to all post-secondary institutions in Alberta. The intent of the funding is to relieve some of the pressure we are facing with our current unfunded students.

·         $5 million Campus Alberta Allocation

The U of A is developing an IT-related proposal and will submit it for consideration for funding from this $5-million funding pool.

·         Recruitment and Retention Allocation

The budget allocated another $6 million to be dispersed among the four universities in the province to be used for recruiting and retaining faculty. The universities’ presidents will work directly with the provincial government and the Alberta Innovates councils to determine how the funding will be most effectively spent. It is our understanding that there are specific spending limitations tied to this funding.

·         Access to the Future Fund

While indicating it remains strongly committed to the Access to the Future Fund, the government has suspended fund payments for the next two years. The University of Alberta has more than $110 million in donations awaiting matching monies from the fund and stopped accepting donations with a matching option almost two years ago. We are working with the deans to develop mitigation strategies and will be communicating with our donors about how the fund’s temporary suspension may affect their donations.

Fiscal challenges remain for both the province and the university. We appreciate the very difficult financial situation the province is navigating. And we believe the province is sincere in its commitment to post-secondary education in the province – Advanced Education and Technology was, for example, one of just three ministries without budget cuts, and our minister was able to fulfil all commitments. We will continue to meet with government and make the case that we need a minimum of four per cent increases in future years, along with additional, targeted funding if we are to meet our commitments to providing excellence in research, teaching and learning.

When we know what the specific implications are to the deans' and vice-presidents' budgets, we will communicate that to the university community.