Staff declines hurt education: universities


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People are disappearing without a trace on Manitoba's university campuses, and chances are, they won't ever be coming back.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/07/2010 (4715 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

People are disappearing without a trace on Manitoba’s university campuses, and chances are, they won’t ever be coming back.

“We won’t have as many of us working here as in the past,” said University of Manitoba president David Barnard.

So far, no one’s been laid off on the campuses of Manitoba’s three largest public universities, but when people retire or leave a job for other reasons, many are not being replaced.

The university presidents say they can’t maintain — let alone improve — the quality of education on a combination of a two per cent increase in provincial grants, and a five per cent cap on tuition increases.

The jargon is vacancy management, leaving a job open to save a salary in a really tough budget year — but some won’t ever be filled.

“Some of these jobs will be declared to have disappeared,” said Barnard. “There will not be the richness of offerings, the same class sizes” as students have seen in the past.

Brandon University president Deborah Poff calls it a classic case of death by a thousand cuts.

“We cut here, there and everywhere,” Poff said. “We have permanent positions we’re not filling this year.

“Universities are people organizations. Most of your budget is human beings; you really need those teachers in front of students,” said Poff.

“The universities here can’t continue doing this,” declared University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy.

The U of W told all its faculties and departments to cut 3.5 per cent, and on top of that is saving another $2.6 million through vacancy management — coincidentally, a 2.6 per cent saving.

This school year just ended, the U of W left 25 jobs open. “It could be even a larger number” on the staff level this fall, Axworthy said, though the U of W is trying to avoid teaching cuts as much as possible.

Barnard told everyone on campus to plan for five per cent cuts, though in the end, “We had a range from flat to 3.25 per cent,” he said.

The U of W said it won’t continue a course if it has fewer than 10 students enrolled. Fewer teaching jobs mean more courses will have a sessional at the front of the class instead of a professor, said Axworthy.

U of W administrators have taken a pay cut on the heels of a management pay freeze, saving about $400,000, said Axworthy. But past pension problems have left the U of W needing to spend $530,000 annually on a 40-year loan to cover additional pension contributions.

Manitoba has the third-lowest tuition in Canada, behind only Newfoundland and Quebec.

After a 10-year tuition freeze here that ended this past September, Axworthy argued, there’s even more ground to catch up. The province should not see post-secondary education as a cost, he said: “We are a stimulus, a catalyst for innovation and growth.”

Barnard said when universities want to offer improvements, the money comes at the expense of something else. “We can’t afford to do it all,” he said.

The revenue gap

Manitoba’s universities have plenty of statistics to back up their claims that they’re underfunded compared to other universities across Canada.

University of Manitoba officials say if students were charged an additional $1,000 in tuition for a maximum course load, tuition in the province would still be third-lowest in Canada, behind Quebec and Newfoundland.

Compared to the average large university with a medical school, the U of M says it is $56 million behind in tuition revenue, and is $35 million behind in tuition revenues to its closest comparable school, the University of Saskatchewan.

— Martin

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