Updated President's message on 2013/14 Alberta budget

University of Lethbridge President Dr. Mike Mahon discusses latest details

On March 7, 2013, the Alberta government released the 2013/2014 budget for the Province of Alberta. As indicated in my initial message, the Campus Alberta Operating Grant for the University of Lethbridge will be reduced by 7.3% in 2013/2014. Since that time, Senior Administration has had the opportunity to have additional conversations with the Ministry of Enterprise and Advanced Education and have learned the following additional details.

Campus Alberta Operating Grant – The University of Lethbridge will receive a Campus Alberta Operating grant of $92,072,000 – a 7.3% decrease from last year. This reduction translates into reducing the operating budget by approximately $11.9 million in 2013/2014.

The 7.3% decrease is consistent with some, though not all; of the Campus Alberta Operating Grant reductions that other Alberta post-secondary institutions were assessed. The Comprehensive Academic and Research Institutions all received a cut in the range of 7.2%-7.3%.

In the 2012/13 Alberta budget, post-secondary institutions were informed by the government that there would be three years of stable funding with a 2% increase in the operating grant per year. While the economic climate suggested that the planned 2% was in jeopardy, there was no indication or warning from the Ministry of Enterprise and Advanced Education, or elected officials, that a cut of this significance was planned or forthcoming. Even with a 2% increase in the operating grant the University would have been looking to decrease its overall budget expenditures by $2.6 million in order to produce a balanced budget.

Infrastructure Maintenance Program – Last year, the University had its Infrastructure Maintenance Program funding cut by 50% from $3,646,729 to $1,823,365. The 2013/14 Alberta Budget reduced this grant a further 2.3 % to $1,782,000.

These funds are restricted grants for use only in the maintenance and replacement of University infrastructure. These funds cannot be used for operating expenses or to offset the operating budget deficit. Ongoing infrastructure renewal projects and projects slated to commence during the spring and summer of 2013 are enabled through this dedicated grant. More information on these planned projects as well as the source of funds for the projects will be released in a subsequent communication.

Campus Alberta Innovation Program (CAIP) Chairs – The Government of Alberta is maintaining its commitment to the CAIP Chair program. The U of L has hired two CAIP Chairs to date and will continue the process to fill the additional chairs. Also, the U of L will look to fill its allocated health-related chairs through a similar Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions Chairs program.

Letters of Expectation – There has been much media and public speculation about the introduction of letters of expectation ("Mandate Letters") directed to each institution in Alberta. Through our discussion with the Assistant Deputy Minister, we have been informed that our approved government mandate will not be changed. We have been told that the letter will include expectations pertaining to learner pathways, working with government, industry and system partners, fiscal responsibility, and research and entrepreneurship directions.

While the details of this letter are not yet fully understood, the Assistant Deputy Minister has assured us that the letter will be received in draft form and that we will be consulted before the letter is finalized. I will be attending a meeting on April 12 with the Ministry, along with the other Alberta post-secondary Presidents, to discuss our letters of expectation and to gain further details of the budget.

Other items in the provincial budget that will be of direct impact on the University community are:

Student Aid - The Alberta budget outlines $211 million for the Student Aid programs in 2013‑14. This budget includes:

  • $71 million for merit‑based scholarship awards;

  • $59 million for bursaries and grants;

  • $42 million for student debt management programs; and

  • $11 million for Alberta Centennial Education Savings Plan grants.

In addition, $425 million in student loans will be disbursed in 2013‑14.

Innovation and Economic Competitiveness - The budget is $204 million in 2013/14 for economic development, innovation and technology commercialization.

I will continue to provide regular updates to the University community as more information becomes available regarding the Letters of Expectation, the impact of the provincial budget on our own operating budget and most importantly on the process we will follow to address these budget reductions. As well, I will schedule a series of open meetings to ensure that everyone at the University has access to the information I have just shared with you. I have no doubt that utilizing the experience, intelligence and the breadth of talent of the people we have at the University of Lethbridge we can find innovative solutions to this current challenge.

As a community, we cannot understate the significance of these reductions and the negative impact they may have on our students, faculty and staff. As one of the largest employers and contributors to the economies in Lethbridge and southern Alberta, these reductions will also be felt well beyond our campuses.
We also cannot understate the fact that the University of Lethbridge has faced significant challenges in the past and from those challenges we, along with those who have come before us, have built one of the top ranked universities in Canada recognized for the quality of its academic programs and research, and for the outstanding experience provided to our students.
Dr. Mike Mahon
President and Vice-Chancellor
The University of Lethbridge