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Potential for academic cuts, tuition and fee increases at MUN

Memorial University students could be faced with paying more fees next year.
Memorial University students could be faced with paying more fees next year.

It’s clear Memorial University leadership and the student body agree on the financial problems facing the school.

Clearer still is how far apart the two sides are on how to resolve the issues.

On Monday morning, the MUN Senate held a special meeting to detail some of the budgetary constraints facing the institution and to shed more light on some possible revenue generation solutions presented to the planning and budget committee.

“Ultimately we need to find a solution which we think creates the best situation for maintaining the quality of our programs and the integrity of the institution so we can continue to deliver on our mandate,” MUN president Gary Kachanoski told reporters after a more than two-hour meeting with members of the senate, faculty deans and a small contingent of students.

Late last week, the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students Union (MUNSU) issued a news release suggesting a 16.3 per cent tuition increase proposal was on the table, with students from Newfoundland and Labrador eligible for a rebate. It also suggested there was a $450 annual campus renewal fee and a $50 per semester student services fee.

Those figures were confirmed on Monday, but the administration made it clear they were only options and that accounting for an $11.9-million shortfall stemming from cuts in last year’s and this year’s provincial budgets could also include cuts at the academic level.

“We need a combination of those proposals to get back to par,” Kachanoski said.

“It’s up to the Board of Regents to decide whether they’re comfortable and have enough information. We will be trying to present them with an option given that we’re already into the budget year and we have significant resource revenues that we need to find and/or efficiencies that we need to identify and budget cuts that we need to make.”

 

The numbers

Kent Decker, vice-president of administration and finance, said MUN has been able to make up for reduction through administrative cuts and salary attrition from retirements in recent years while avoiding cuts at the academic level.

Decker also spent considerable time discussing the cost-per-student, which he says in 2016 was closer to $26,000 and not the $31,000 figure reported by Statistics Canada for 2015. It puts MUN on par with schools such as the University of Saskatchewan and Dalhousie University in Halifax, both of which have similar class sizes and entrance averages.

However, Decker noted that at Dalhousie, for instance, tuition accounts for $104 million more in revenue than at Memorial, and Dalhousie receives a much smaller provincial grant compared to what this province allots to Memorial.

Decker also detailed the major shortcomings stemming from deferred maintenance funding, which was cut by the government.

A consultant recently suggested MUN would require $22.5 million over the next 15 years just to maintain the current infrastructure.

“Two years ago our deferred maintenance budget was reduced from $10 million to zero, so we’ve been funding deferred maintenance out of our own operating dollars,” Kachnoski said afterward, noting $15 million was spent in 2015 and 2016.

MUN provost and vice-president academic Noreen Golfman made it clear the university could no longer sustain itself without cuts to the academic sector.

By 2020, the school could potentially save $4.6 million from a reduction in 33 faculty positions and another $3.1 million in 51 staff reductions.

Academic cuts, she pointed out, were likely to result in larger class sizes and more courses taught by short-term faculty, and adversely affect research funding and revitalization, among others.

On the staffing side, it could have a negative effect on infrastructure, student services, faculty staff supports, development opportunities and more.

As for the options that would affect students, Golfman said the $450 annual campus renewal fee would be aimed at physical and technological infrastructure and, assuming enrolment stays static, generate $6.5 million.

The $50 student services fee — covering professional development, career advice, health and wellness, all services that Golfman says are seeing higher demand in recent years — could generate $2.3 million.

The tuition increase for students from other parts of Canada and international students would create $3.2 million in new revenue.

Renata Lang, MUNSU’s incoming director of external affairs, said such a move would negatively affect enrolment, as MUN is attractive to those students because of its affordability. An increase like that combined with other economic factors would make it less likely those students would consider MUN, she said.

“Bigger costs when it comes to relocating, travelling to the province, other taxes locally, the price of living is going up, food is more expensive, then it becomes comparatively not that much of a competitive advantage pricewise.”

Students on hand, many of whom were Senate student representatives, also suggested administrative bloat was still an issue, but Kachanoski argued significant budget cuts have already occurred.

“As we’ve indicated already, we have protected the academic aspect of the academy up to this point and have been taking all of the budget cuts previously within the administrative areas,” he said.

Many faculty members in attendance, mostly deans of respective schools, seemed in favour of the increases.

Lang lamented that fact, but recognized that many of those departments have been feeling the brunt of cutbacks since before the current provincial government’s budgets.
“A lot of these areas have been neglected even years before, so I do hope to see a priority made for the improvement of their services and faculties and academics,” Lang told reporters. “I’m just hoping not to see (it done) on the backs of students.”

All students, along with staff and faculty, will be able to offer their input later this week at a town hall meeting set for Thursday at 2 p.m. at the Bruneau Innovation Centre.

Kachanoski says they’ll take information from that meeting into consideration when preparing a formal budget proposal for the Board of Regents’ vote on May 11.

 

kenn.oliver@thetelegram.com

Twitter: kennoliver79

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