University faces deep budget cuts

by Gavin Wilson
Staff writer

The University of British Columbia is making the deepest budget cuts in more than a decade in order to produce a balanced budget for the 1997/98 fiscal year.

The university will trim more than $8.6 million in spending, an overall cut of 2.5 per cent, in a budget recently approved by the Board of Governors.

With both provincial government grants and tuition fees frozen, UBC has made the cuts to cover increased costs, accommodate a significant number of new students, implement new programs and satisfy other government-mandated requirements, said former UBC President David Strangway, who presented the budget to the board for ratification in July.

Since most of the university's expenditures are salaries, the budget cuts will mean fewer people teaching students and performing the other functions that keep the university operating, he said.

"This is the biggest cut we have had in more than a decade and comes on top of a constant string of cuts. Nevertheless, we turn over to our successors a university with no deficit and in a remarkably vibrant state," Strangway said.

Balancing the budget was made difficult by a number of factors, including government clawbacks of $1.3 million, and a recent 1.5 per cent arbitration award for faculty salaries and a settlement for management and professional staff salaries, both of which were retroactive to July 1996.

Enrolment has increased dramatically, too. In the past two years alone the university has seen a nine per cent increase in undergraduate enrolment with no additional funding from the provincial government.

UBC's administrative costs are among the very lowest in Canada. Tuition fees are among the lowest in the country and the university spends or manages $120 million each year in student aid programs.

The university has also made significant gains in productivity (based on the grant funding provided per graduating student) of 26 per cent in the past dozen years.

Yet in constant dollars, the provincial grant has grown by just eight per cent, or 0.7 per cent annually, in the past 12 years.

The impact of this year's cuts will vary from faculty to faculty, but will include the loss of faculty members, teaching assistants, secretarial and technical staff.

Also expected are increases in class size, reduction in course offerings and an increasing reliance on sessional lecturers.

A capital plan is in place to meet the most critical space needs, and includes projects such as the Michael Smith Biotechnology Building, the Creative Arts and Multimedia Building and the Chemical/Bio-Engineering Building.

The projects involve a substantial replacement of very poor quality space. Private fund raising and the federal and provincial governments will each provide one-third of the funding.

Other budget highlights include: