Provincial government takes back U of R funding

Photo - Matt Wincherauk

Photo – Matt Wincherauk

$539,000 returned to province from operating budget

Recently it came to light that the Government of Saskatchewan took back 0.5 per cent of the one per cent operating increase it had promised to the University of Regina last spring.

On Sept. 4, the University received a request for the return of the funds.

“That represents a reduction to the university of $539,000,” according to an email from David Horth of the Advanced Education Ministry. “The University also saw a reduction of $312,000 in Saskatchewan Innovation and Opportunity Scholarship money this year. None of those matching dollars had been committed to students.”

The email also urged recipients to “keep in mind [that] this year’s total reduction of $851,000 at the U of R is less than 1 per cent of the university’s annual operating budget, which is estimated at nearly $108 million.”

Advanced Education Critic Warren McCall is surprised by the move, saying “a clawback of funding is unheard of in my time in office.”

Horth’s email also noted that it is “rare to have midyear reductions.”

McCall says, “It shows how out of touch the government is with real priorities. Normally, [the government] would reach in to its rainy day fund or borrow [money], but they’ve blown through the rainy day fund.” As well, the government decided to call back the $851,000 as opposed to borrowing to cover the shortfall.

McCall went on to say that he believes the reason the government took back the money directly rather than using conventional methods was simple.

“They thought they could get away with it. They were having trouble financially, and they thought the clawback of funds would go unnoticed.”

Thomas Chase, U of R Provost and Vice-President Academic, says, “It’s our understanding is [that] this is one time. We certainly hope its one time.”

When the request to return the funds came in, Chase says the University’s hands were tied.

“Since we are publicly funded, we don’t have a great deal of choice, unfortunately. Obviously we’d rather not have that.”

Melissa Pleau, a second-year Psychology student, says she is concerned that if funding continues to be cut, she will not have the same opportunities as previous years.

James Martin, a third-year Actuarial science student approached the topic of funding with humour, saying, “Well, we do have a damn nice sign.”

Chase doesn’t believe there is cause for concern among students.

“We were in a better position than we had presumed we would be in, we were ahead on enrolments. We’ve also made a number of cuts – we’ve taken another position out of the president’s office. We’re also very careful on discretionary spending on things like travel. We’re running two senior searches right now, and we’re not using external consultants. With [those methods] we have been able to survive that midyear clawback.”

“We can understand [the government’s] fiscal pressures. We don’t like the clawback, but we understand. I don’t believe it damages our relationship with the government,” says Chase.

With that in mind, Chase says the University will continue to push for what he refers to as “adequate funding.”

“We like to say we run a lean program at the U of R. We do a lot with relatively limited means. We’re going to continually push for more funding recognizing that investment in education pays back dividends far greater than what is put in. Better educated taxpayers go on to have higher paying jobs and contribute more taxes, they’re also happier citizens.”

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