REGINA – University administrators in Saskatchewan have been forced to come up with more than $1 million the institutions were originally promised after the provincial government pulled back portions of their operating grants.
In an e-mail to the Opposition NDP, a spokesperson from the office of University of Regina president Vianne Timmons confirmed they were notified in September that operating grant funding for 2015-16 “was being reduced by 0.5 per cent, or $539,400.”
On Tuesday, Finance Minister Kevin Doherty said claw backs from post-secondary institutions’ operational budgets will save the province $1.4 million; the U of R and Saskatchewan Polytechnic are the hardest hit.
“Coming halfway through the year to recover money does not seem fair.” – U of R president
During Timmons’ town hall presentation on October 14, the president said the university “did get a call that said the government needed to have some money returned.”
“Coming to the university halfway through the year to recover money does not seem fair,” she told the audience, noting that cost escalation at the U of R is “between 3.5 and 4 per cent.”
Timmons said the funding adjustment was more like one per cent over six months because the institution found out half way through the year.
On top of that, the Saskatchewan Innovation and Opportunity Scholarship Program grant was being reduced by $312,000 for scholarships already committed, the e-mail says.
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This is at odds with what Doherty told reporters just one week prior, on November 10. “I can tell you, I have not heard any reports of ministers going to third parties … and saying, ‘What we allocated to you in your budget, we’re not providing that amount this year.’ I’ve not been told that, no,” Doherty said.
Doherty did say it’s possible individual ministers could have told groups the government provides grant money they’d be receiving less, but as finance minister he was “just providing the direction.”
On Tuesday, he admitted he later learned Advanced Education Minister Scott Moe had requested 0.5 per cent back from post-secondary institutions, but didn’t believe it was necessary to correct the record immediately.
“We were going to release all that information when it comes to the mid-year report (later this month).”
Doherty said no other ministers have since told him they’ve cut funding to organizations under their portfolio.
“We know very clearly this minister and this government aren’t being straight with people of Saskatchewan in terms of money being clawed back in post-secondary education,” said NDP advanced education critic McCall. “We’ve asked these questions, been refused answers, and now the story keeps changing.”
McCall noted that Doherty was previously the advanced education minister, saying he should know the file well.
“That this was somehow dropped from the sky to hit him on the head defies belief.”
The U of R says no programming was cut and the funding adjustment was absorbed by not filling job openings and reducing discretionary spending on things like travel.
Cuts at U of S too
The government confirmed later Tuesday that the University of Saskatchewan was asked to hand back $7.9 million in capital funding, which had been earmarked for the Health Sciences building.
In an e-mail, a U of S spokesperson told Global News that more details would be provided about the reduction in the coming days. Officials expect they can cope with the new funding reality without suspending any projects.
Recommendations will go before the university’s board of governors in December.