The University of Manitoba has not only avoided spending cuts in next year's budget, it has been able to increase it in some areas on a one-time-only basis.

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This article was published 23/5/2017 (1653 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The University of Manitoba has not only avoided spending cuts in next year's budget, it has been able to increase it in some areas on a one-time-only basis.

U of M president David Barnard told the board of governors Tuesday the key to the budget was the Pallister government's wage controls.

Freezing wages of faculty and physical plant employees, combined with years of reduced spending and use of voluntary retirements and vacancy management, gave the university breathing room despite a freeze on provincial operating grants.

"We think we've been prudent in managing university finances in recent years. We've been cautious in our spending," Barnard said in an interview.

The U of M board of governors approved a $648-million balanced operating budget Tuesday for the 2017-18 academic year, about 1.6 per cent more than last year.

Barnard told the governors the university had prepared its budget based on increasing academic salaries, but when the province froze faculty wages, money became available for one-time academic improvements, he said.

There is belt-tightening on campus, especially in non-academic spending, Barnard said.

But the U of M doesn't have to make the major cuts that the University of Winnipeg did just a few weeks ago, which included the cancellation of three varsity sports programs.

"It's not as dramatic as that," Barnard said.

The U of W is paying its faculty members annual raises on a 54-month collective agreement that was negotiated before the provincial wage freeze, he noted.

"We had the wage freeze imposed on us," Barnard said. "We're in that pause."

He couldn't say how much was saved from potential salary increases, but said the freeze had a significant impact.

The university has been trimming costs in recent years, and has provided incentives that resulted in about 50 faculty members taking a voluntary retirement. "Not all of them will be replaced," Barnard said.

The U of M has been able to carefully manage its pension plan, he said.

Every faculty will see improved funding this year, especially in student services, research support and indigenous programming, but much of the new spending is one-time only, he said. "We're not making ongoing commitments," Barnard said.

"We've tried to be careful in the past, and we'll continue to be careful," he said. "Next year, the circumstances may be different.

"Because the University of Manitoba is committed to remunerating faculty and staff fairly and competitively, we had budgeted to fund increases that reflect this commitment. As those funds will not now be directed to salaries, we felt it imperative that the flexibility created be utilized to support academic activities," Barnard said.

"At the same time, we are preparing for more years of a constrained funding environment," Barnard said. "I am confident that the new budget model now in development for our university, which significantly decentralizes revenues and fiscal decision-making, will assist us in navigating those challenges."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca