Mahon speaks to proposed budget reductions

April 23, 2013

In addressing the budget reductions imposed on the University of Lethbridge through the 7.3 per cent reduction in the Campus Alberta Operating Grant, a framework of values was developed to guide the Budget Advisory Committee in developing the 2013/14 University of Lethbridge consolidated operating budget. The 2013/14 reductions require us to find $11.8 million. Assuming no increases in the Campus Alberta Grant for the following two years as has been suggested by Enterprise and Advanced Education, this number grows to $20 million by 2015/16.

The approach committed to by our community was to, "maintain the forward vision of the University of Lethbridge" and to not compromise our future through shortsighted reaction. "Our strategic priorities remain priorities independent of the financial challenges our University encounters. To take us to our desired future the University will pursue its established strategic directions and identified priorities." The values, which were reaffirmed by both the General Faculties Council and the Board of Governors, are that:

Our people define our University and are our greatest strength

People are the essential resource of our institution and as such the University will strive to preserve employment. All University employee groups will be treated with fairness and with respect in all that lies ahead in our work to maintain our student centred focus and to ensure the continuing financial sustainability of our institution.

High quality is central to all that we do

Our commitment to maintaining high quality undergraduate and graduate academic programmes is key to our University mission to build a better society. High quality instruction and teaching are essential to this commitment. Research and creative activity are also key to our mission and their vitality and vibrancy serve as a differentiating feature of our institution and a central part of our culture as a comprehensive academic and research institution. High quality facilities and services support our mission and best serve our students, staff, and academic staff.

Access to our university is a foundational value

As a Comprehensive Academic and Research University, dedicated to liberal education, that was born out of the needs and aspirations of our local communities, we are committed to providing student access to our high quality academic programs throughout the province without creating unnecessary financial barriers. Community engagement with our university and community use of our facilities play a role in defining us as a public institution.

I am committed to the University quickly achieving as much of the targeted reductions as possible without compromising the long-term prospects of the University and without making decisions that lack adequate data or debate to support those decisions. While there is much more work yet to complete, the recommendations put forward to date look to achieve a balanced budget by the 2015/16 fiscal year if not sooner. The following outline the initial recommendations of the Budget Advisory Committee to bring forward a University of Lethbridge 2013/14 consolidated operating budget.

Academic Staff Voluntary Retirement Plan

The Academic Staff Voluntary Retirement Plan was introduced to help address budget issues at the University at a time when we were anticipating a 2% increase in base grant funding. The plan was voluntary and faculty members were provided a three-year window to transition to retirement. A total of 34 faculty members have decided to participate. For the most part, these faculty members will not be replaced. In the situation where the continuance of a program is predicated on the replacement of a faculty member or where the quality of a program will be severely compromised, the Dean of the Faculty and Provost of the University will develop a plan for replacing the member.

This program will enable the University to save approximately $4.2 million by 2015/16.

Ancillary Services

Additional revenue will be provided from Ancillary Services operations to the operating budget of the University. Currently, Ancillary Services contributes $150,000 per year, in addition to covering all of the expenses associated with their operations. This will rise to $500,000. To support this, Ancillary Services will reduce the contributions it makes to their respective capital reserves and maintenance funds and will explore additional, new revenue opportunities.

Lifecycle Equipment Annual Allocation

Annual funding for the replacement of equipment will be reduced by $1 million on a continuing basis.

Research Enhancement Fund

The Research Enhancement Fund of $300,000 per year will be discontinued. This fund is used differently by each Faculty to enable research initiatives.

Student Administrative Fee

An increased Student Administrative Fee will be assessed. This fee will be used to preserve services offered to students that would otherwise have to be reduced and maintain student-centered projects already in progress as identified in our Comprehensive Institutional Plan (CIP). With the increase in this fee, the University of Lethbridge Student Administrative Fee will remain the lowest in the Comprehensive Academic Research Institution (CARI) sector. As well, the combined tuition and fees for the University will still remain the lowest in the province of Alberta among the CARI sector.

International Student Differential Fee

The University of Lethbridge currently has the lowest differential fee assessed on International Students in the CARI sector. This fee will be increased. With this increase, the University of Lethbridge will still have the lowest International Student Differential Fee among the CARI sector.

Executive Compensation

Salaries for the President and the four Vice-Presidents of the University will be frozen at the 2012/13 levels.

Employment Costs

Salary and economic benefits negotiations are on going with the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA). The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) is in the final year of their contract. A commitment has been made that all employment groups will be treated respectfully and fairly through the reduction process. Employment costs and entitlements are subject to negotiation with the relevant bargaining unit and as such, University Administration will not publicly discuss anything related to the negotiations or suggest anything publicly that would compromise those negotiations.

Infrastructure Maintenance and Renewal

Projects funded from the Infrastructure Maintenance Program (IMP) grant provided to the University by Enterprise and Advanced Education will continue as planned. All additional infrastructure maintenance and renewal projects that are funded from operating funds have been suspended or cancelled.

Additional Reduction Strategies

The Budget Advisory Committee has struck a number of committees to explore opportunities for reductions, structural change or revenue that will require more time than the current budget process allows for. The committees will present their recommendations to President's Executive by July 31, 2013. The committees will be reviewing communications and marketing, information technology, recruitment, finance, faculty work assignments and Faculty program costs, collaboration with other institutions, and opportunities for new revenue generation.

I am grateful to the members of the University community who have submitted ideas or suggestions through the online budget feedback forum. Many of those suggestions have been incorporated into the proposed reductions. Others will be addressed by the work of the noted committees.

We are also exploring other opportunities for greater efficiency that could result in reductions that would impact the budget of the University. These include reducing the number of computer labs on campus, a review of the library acquisition budget, an employee voluntary reduced workload program and increasing fund-raising and sponsorship activities to help offset operating budget support for initiatives that would be attractive to external funders such as scholarships and bursaries.

These recommendations represent the initial work of the Budget Advisory Committee. It is worth noting that there were many ideas vigorously debated that were rejected as it was decided they were not compatible with our values or long-term plans, or they would too severely compromise the student experience or programs of the University. While these recommendations get us a significant way toward achieving our budget reduction targets, there is still a projected deficit for the 2013/14 year. This deficit will be addressed through the continued work of the Budget Advisory Committee and the committees noted earlier.

The budget reduction recommendations will be reviewed by the Budget Priorities Advisory Committee and ultimately incorporated into the 2013/14 consolidated operating budget of the University. General Faculties Council (GFC) will review the budget at the May meeting and the budget will then go to the Board of Governors for approval at its May meeting. The budget will be submitted to Enterprise and Advanced Education as part of the CIP that is due by May 31, 2013.

Once again, I want to thank the members of the University community for their engagement in this process and their continuing commitment to the University of Lethbridge.


Dr. Mike Mahon
President and Vice-Chancellor