From the President’s Desk: Budget update March 23

Continuing to build the U of A as a world-class instititution while responding to COVID-19 and financial challenges.

Aerial view of U of A, North Campus

As we continue to respond to public health directives and measures relating to COVID-19, faculty and staff across the university are acting quickly to make changes to how we teach, research, and work in order to ensure that our students complete the Winter 2020 term and to maintain the core services of the university with as little disruption as possible. This is a very stressful time for everyone here at the U of A, and I cannot thank each one of you enough for your commitment and dedication — as well as your flexibility, quick action, and compassion.

As both Kevin Kane, president of AASUA, and Elizabeth Johannson, president of NASA, noted in open letters addressed to me last week, the University of Alberta is dealing with unprecedented pressures due to both the impact of COVID-19 and major budget reductions.

The emergence of this public health crisis has put added stress on everyone. Regrettably it has not changed or slowed the government timelines related to budget. Early last week, the provincial government passed its 2020 budget, confirming changes and reductions to post-secondary funding, including a deep cut to the U of A. We must follow government legislation and table a balanced budget for 2020–21 by March 31.

To balance our budget as required, we must make difficult decisions and continue to implement plans, even as we are responding to the COVID-19 crisis — a crisis that has no predictable end point. The proposed 2020–21 institutional budget includes proposals for raising tuition, increasing mandatory non-instructional fees and residence fees, as well as setting aside funding for student aid. We are deferring some capital projects, closing buildings and reallocating investment income from strategic initiatives to operations. These actions will mitigate some of the impact of a total $110M cut in government funding but the remaining cuts are extraordinarily deep.

As I reported to you on March 13, there will also be significant job losses. We have been transparent that a reduction of approximately 635 positions should be anticipated for 2020–21, including lay-offs. This is in addition to reduction of approximately 400 positions for this year, ending March 31 (through retirements, attrition, lay-offs, and position closures).

In my post of March 13, I also communicated that we have been working with the provincial government, along with Alberta’s other post-secondary institutions, to reach an agreement on having severance costs deficit financed. We had been hopeful that these efforts would be successful, as it would reduce job losses significantly not only at the U of A (by 265) but across the sector. However, in spite of these efforts, our request has been denied and the government will not allow severance costs to be deficit financed.

I can’t tell you how disappointed I am to share this news with you. It means that we must continue to move forward with plans for restructuring units and positions. To delay implementing plans now would only mean delaying the financial costs of severance, resulting in even more lay-offs later in 2020–21.

This is an extraordinarily difficult situation for everyone, especially when we are also responding to COVID-19. I want to assure the community that, even as we make difficult budget decisions, the university will not compromise our commitment to ensuring the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. All necessary resources will be directed to the effort.

Our community is being tested on many fronts, but the U of A is strong and resilient. We continue to play a leading role in research and education. I think of the teams who have received special CIHR funding to speed scientific and public health research in the fight against COVID-19 as examples of the excellent work that continues on a daily basis at the U of A.

I thank you all for your steadfast commitment and dedication.

David H. Turpin
President and Vice-chancellor