As many of you know, the Provincial Budget was tabled on February 27th. The Alberta Government had previously indicated that cuts to the Campus Alberta grant would average approximately 5%, but that cuts would be differentially applied to individual institutions. The University of Alberta’s administration had prepared a budget based on this projected 5% cut. The actual cut announced in the budget to the U of A’s Campus Alberta grant, however, is 11%, obviously well beyond 5%. This amounts to an additional cut of $34 million. This is on top of the 6.9% mid-year cut to the last U of A budget, for a total of ~18% in cuts. This is a shockingly large combined budget cut and over a very short time period. For further perspective, the U of A typically receives about 25% of the provincial total Campus Alberta grant. This means that over 50% of the cuts to the total Campus Alberta grant this year were directed at the U of A, disproportionately targeting our institution for cuts within the Alberta post-secondary system. Let’s not forget that this provincial government also intends to impose further overall system cuts of 5%, or higher given the experience of budget 2020, in each of the two years after this one.
There is further risk of reductions in funding going forward due to the “at-risk” component of the U of A budget, newly mandated by the provincial government as part of its performance-based funding measures. As I had mentioned in a previous President’s message, the at-risk component is 15% for the first year, increasing to 40% over the next couple of years. We now know the first four “performance indicators” by which the U of A will be evaluated, to determine the degree to which it receives the at-risk funding. They are: 1) Expenditures containment; 2) Administration expense ratio (costs associated with fund raising, governance, finance, and university relations) relative to frontline activities; 3) Enrolment targets (domestic, indigenous, and international students); and 4) Research Revenue. Each of these indicators has a specific percentage of the at-risk funds applied to it, so Expenditures containment is 40% of the at-risk funds, Admin expense ratio is 10%, Enrolment is 40% and Research Revenue is 10%. A number of additional performance indicators will be added for the next budget.
The changes outlined above and dictated by the government, would compel one to conclude that it does not understand the roles and contributions of universities, and/or it does not value these functions and outcomes. The sheer extent and speed of cuts proposed and implemented will be harmful to our university, the largest and most impactful post-secondary institution in the province. The depth of cuts will compromise our ability to deliver quality education and remain leaders in research. We have already lost a number of AASUA members in the last months due to prior cuts. We, and the University, can ill-afford to lose more AASUA members if we are to deliver on the promise of excellence in research and teaching. Contributions by the U of A are key to a healthy, stable, and diversified economy. We provide an education that imparts highly sought-after creative and transferrable skills, enabling our graduates, and Alberta, to compete and lead in the global economy. It is essential that these and additional contributions are understood, respected and preserved for the health of our province.
Performance indicators imposed on the U of A externally by government will provide the government management level control of the University’s directions and activities. This profoundly undermines, whether through ignorance or intent, University autonomy and the academic freedom of academics. It is essential that universities and the academics therein, have independence to pursue their activities in an unencumbered fashion. Indeed, university contributions to the economy and society are wholly dependent on freedoms inherent in institutional autonomy and academic freedom.
AASUA representatives will meet with representatives from the Student Union, Non-Academic Staff and the Graduate Students Association to discuss the situation at the U of A. We stand with all students and employees of the U of A against these cuts, as the inevitable deterioration of our world leading scholarship occurs through the consequences of job losses at all levels and positions, as well as from increased costs to our students.
AASUA representatives will also meet with representatives from academic associations within the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations (CAFA), to review the situation in the province and chart a course of action.
I will update as more is known and decided.