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Post-secondary budget tally

Tight finances beset Manitoba's schools of higher learning

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Red River College faces an $11-million budget deficit, and the University of Winnipeg could be as much as $4 million in the hole.

But at the University of Manitoba, nobody's pushing the panic button this year as the April 17 provincial budget nears.

The Selinger government has promised to increase university operating grants five per cent this year and next and will cap tuition increases at the rate of inflation, expected to be about 1.5 per cent.

The post-secondary schools believe the province will keep those campaign promises.

But as in pretty much every year in recent memory, the institutions don't expect the government money and tuition will be enough to cover their costs without cutting jobs, programs, and services.

The U of W's salary and benefits costs will go up $3.5 million, but grants and tuition will only cover $2.5 million.

In addition, the U of W's ongoing pension difficulties will force it to find as much as $3 million more in a $100-million operating budget, said Bill Balan, vice-president of finance.

If the province doesn't provide a loan or agree to some other arrangement to come up with the money, the university will have to look at the entire budget again, Balan said.

Vacancy management has been a common phrase around the U of W, where jobs are being left unfilled to keep costs down.

Students will get the credits they need to graduate, Balan said, but possibly not all the courses they want.

"We're very concerned about that," he said.

Red River College president Stephanie Forsyth lamented that colleges didn't get the three-year funding commitment universities have received. Tuition went up $100 a student and it received only two per cent operating grant increases.

"I don't know what they're planning, but I hope it's good news," said Forsyth, who projects an $11-million deficit on a $160-million operating budget.

RRC has asked for significant increases in tuition, she said.

"Where can we whittle away?" Forsyth asked. "We're looking at any vacancies and make do with what we have.

"Unlike the universities, we also pay tax on our land," she said.

RRC has a $2.5-million property tax bill and owes the province $4.5 million for managing the college's provincially owned buildings and land.

The U of M will have to reallocate some money across campus, said president David Barnard, but "I don't think it's going to be dire. We're definitely not making across-the-board cuts."

Barnard said the U of M has its pension costs under control and has been steadily reducing expenses through efficiencies in areas such as purchasing of supplies and staff travel.

"We've been seeing enrolment growth -- I expect it'll be at least two per cent," Barnard said.

Having the Southwood Precinct, a former golf course, under full university control will not affect the 2012-2013 budget, he said. The U of M will conduct an international competition to develop a master plan for the site.

"It can be transformative for the university, for the city," he said.

Brandon University president Deborah Poff has to find $45 million over 15 years to add to the school's pension fund, a daunting challenge. This year, BU is spending half its dwindling reserve funds to help pay for pensions, she said.

BU has left jobs vacant across campus, filling some top administrative positions with acting directors and leaving their regular jobs unfilled.

The experience of universities that had major faculty strikes -- BU had the longest professors' strike in Manitoba history -- indicates BU will suffer a five per cent drop in enrolment, Poff said.

Three out of four need more

The Selinger government has promised to increase university operating grants by five per cent this year while capping tuition increases at the cost-of-living increase -- expected to be around 1.5 per cent.

THE UNIVERSITY OF WINNIPEG faces cuts of as much as $4 million on a $100-million budget, three-quarters of it because of ongoing pension problems.

The U of W hopes its commercialization plan, including a project to create medical isotopes, could increase future revenues by several million dollars a year.

The university has been proclaiming to everyone who will listen that it is historically underfunded compared to other schools, and that if the province adopted per-student grants as part of its funding formula, its financial woes could disappear.

RED RIVER COLLEGE has a shortfall of $11 million on a $160-million budget. RRC pays $2.5 million in property taxes -- universities are exempt -- and pays the province $4.5 million to manage its provincially owned buildings and land.

RRC was granted a $100 increase in tuition last year for students with a full course load. It wants parity with tuition at Assiniboine Community College and University College of the North -- $45 more a student -- and annual increases of $200 a student for the next four years.

THE UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA says its pension file is under control and it has done a good job of reducing costs across campus. No panic button this year, though deans and department heads were told to develop a plan to cope with three per cent less money and to provide wish lists. There will be reallocations of money, but no one-size-fits-all across the board.

BRANDON UNIVERSITY has to cut about four per cent to balance its budget, largely through leaving jobs vacant, and expects this year's record-breaking faculty strike will reduce enrolment next year by five per cent. Provincial funding will leave BU short about $3.4 million, which will be split between cuts and dipping into reserves.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2012 B1

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