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Campus Bulletin

April 12, 2004

University responds to provincial review, funding announcement

University of Guelph president Alastair Summerlee says he is very supportive of the provincial government’s plan to launch a comprehensive review of post-secondary education.

Summerlee joins with his colleagues at the Council of Ontario Universities in saying the review will point to the need for further investment to ensure that students have access to excellence at strong universities. “The problems we are facing are the result of long-standing underfunding and provincial cutbacks,” he says. “They didn’t develop overnight.”

Mary Anne Chambers, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, said Thursday that the review will include consultations with students, parents, industry, universities and colleges. The goal is to develop a long-term plan to ensure high-quality and accessible post-secondary education in the province. The minister also announced compensation for a two-year freeze of tuition for both regulated and deregulated programs at the province's colleges and universities.

Summerlee is less optimistic about the compensation for lost tuition revenue. He is concerned that it is only one-time money, meaning it cannot be built into base budgets as continuing support, and that only funding for the first year of the tuition freeze was announced.

“The fact that it is only one-time funding does not allow for responsible planning and will limit our ability to meet the needs of our students,” Summerlee says. “It is now absolutely critical that the government fulfil its commitment to provide additional support through the quality assurance fund.” The provincial government's four-year quality assurance fund is intended to enhance quality while universities are growing. Funding amounts for the first and fourth years were announced when the program was introduced in 2003, but second-year support was not specified.

Although U of G has yet to see the final numbers on its portion of the tuition compensation allocation, indications are that it will receive less than the $1.4 million it was expecting. “We are deeply disappointed,” Summerlee says. “This will not even cover the increased costs of our utilities next year.”

Moreover, because of the way the tuition compensation is being allocated, universities that chose to deregulate programs – which allows them to charge higher fees for certain professional programs – are being rewarded.

“Historically, we have resisted raising revenue by differentiating tuition for some of our programs as part of our commitment to accessibility,” Summerlee says. “But it has always come with a price because of the significant amount of potential revenue lost each year. Now, the price tag is even higher.”

He says he was also disappointed that there was no news that the province would increase financial aid for students. “Accessibility is a priority for us and although tuition may be frozen, students still face increasing costs, such as food and housing.”

The provincial government’s announcement underscores the fiscally prudent approach the university took in deciding to move forward with its budget planning, Summerlee added. U of G’s Board of Governor’s approved the preliminary 2004-2005 MTCU Operating Budget April 7.

All U of G colleges and directorates were asked to review their operating budgets with a target of a 3.5-per-cent reduction. The university also instituted a time-limited, voluntary early retirement and resignation program to help provide ongoing reductions to base budget commitments.

“It is still our intent to try and avoid layoffs,” Summerlee says. “But we still do not know whether government commitments for vital base budget funding – such as for quality assurance – will be fulfilled.”

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