Alberta says universities over budget; need to freeze travel, hiring, hosting

Alberta says universities over budget; need to freeze travel, hiring, hosting

EDMONTON — Alberta’s advanced education minister says post-secondary schools are going over budget and he’s urging them to immediately freeze hiring and stop spending on travel and hosting.

“We’re not seeing a reduction in expenditures. That’s what we’re most interested in,” Demetrios Nicolaides said in an interview Thursday.

“We’re asking them to redouble their efforts in bringing expenditures down.”

Nicolaides said there’s progress at some institutions, but more needs to be done.

“We commend them on those efforts, but we need to ensure that we’re all moving in the same direction and looking to find savings wherever possible.”

The minister declined to give details on the over-spending. He said the ministry is still crunching the numbers.

On Wednesday, Nicolaides sent letters to Alberta’s 21 largest post-secondary schools that said his ministry is starting to receive year-end financial statements that show spending is not meeting expectations.

“Expenditures are forecasted to be much higher than anticipated,” Nicolaides wrote to the board chairs of the schools, including the University of Alberta, University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge and Athabasca University.

“I have been very clear from the beginning that institutions were to exercise fiscal restraint and prudence when making spending decisions.

“This will not be easy, simple, or painless. However, we must take action immediately to improve the financial state of our province before it’s too late.”

University of Calgary president Ed McCauley said the institution is in a position to balance its budget this year.

“Many of the specific actions mentioned in the letter are well underway,” he said in a statement. “In fall 2019, we implemented a hiring restraint policy and communicated to staff that travel and hosting be limited as much as possible.”

The University of Lethbridge said it is reviewing the letter.

“We are currently working toward a balanced budget that will be presented to the board this spring,” the university said in an email.

“To date, the University has implemented many of the measures mentioned in the letter including restrictions on replacing vacant administrative positions.”

A spokesman for the University of Alberta declined to comment.

Opposition NDP critic Sarah Hoffman said the letters illustrate the government’s misplaced priorities. She noted that the province has cut the corporate income tax and has sent a premier’s aide on multiple business trips to London.

“It’s a little rich of them to continue to point and blame everyone else, when they’re the ones that gave all this (tax) money away, caused all this panic, and continue to spend as though they are entitled to stay in posh London hotels and tell universities not to buy pencils,” said Hoffman.

Along with the freeze on hiring, hosting and travel, Nicolaides has asked the schools to defer all other expenditures where possible until April 1 after the current budget year ends.

His ministry wants to see monthly reports from the schools to ensure they stay on track, and is asking departments to not allow egregious last-minute expenditures of unused funds, known colloquially as “March Madness.”

The government also wants each school to deliver by April 15 an interim financial statement “that clearly articulates an expenditure reduction and a diligent, thoughtful attempt to bring costs in line.”

Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government has reduced operating spending by five per cent for post-secondary education and lifted a freeze on tuitions.

The government says Alberta spends more on post-secondary students than most other provinces and that reforms are needed. It says Alberta remains one of the national leaders in per-student spending even with the funding cuts.

This year’s advanced education operating expense is $5.1 billion and is to be reduced over four years to $4.8 billion, a 12 per cent cut. That’s expected to be achieved through departmental savings and reducing grants to the schools.

The province plans to introduce a new funding model starting later this year that would link funding to accountability, service for students and job creation.

There were five independent academic institutions that did not get the letter as their spending does not impact the government’s bottom line. They are: Ambrose University, The King’s University, St. Mary’s University, Concordia University of Edmonton and Burman University.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 16, 2020

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced more than 1,500 active cases in Alberta Monday afternoon and five additional deaths. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
New COVID rules coming

Central zone active cases up by 100 in last 24 hours

(Black Press file photo.)
Rocky police charge three suspects after pellet gun shootings

Three incidents results in several injuries

Red Deer city council gave final approval to a mask bylaw that will go into effect on Nov. 30. (Black Press file photo).
Red Deer city council approves mask bylaw that takes effect on Nov. 30

It could be ‘superceded’ by a provincial mask bylaw, if one is announced Tuesday

Lynn Van Laar, chair of this year’s Christmas Wish Breakfast, said the event was planned outdoors to minimize the risk of COVID. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Outdoor Christmas Wish Breakfast helps central Alberta families this holiday season

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t going to stop children from having a merry… Continue reading

Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey (20) knocks a pass away from Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Goff throws for 376 yards, 3 TDs in Rams’ 27-24 win vs Bucs

Goff throws for 376 yards, 3 TDs in Rams’ 27-24 win vs Bucs

New York Red Bulls midfielder Dru Yearwood, left, fights for the ball against Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio during an MLS soccer match in Harrison, N.J., on November 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
Experienced Toronto FC ready to take on upstart Nashville SC in playoff action

Experienced Toronto FC ready to take on upstart Nashville SC in playoff action

Canada's head coach Dave Lowry during practice at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland, on Wednesday, December 30, 2015. The Winnipeg Jets have hired Lowry as an assistant coach. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Former WHL head coach Dave Lowry joins Paul Maurice’s staff in Winnipeg

Former WHL head coach Dave Lowry joins Paul Maurice’s staff in Winnipeg

Felix Auger-Aliassime, of Canada, returns a shot to Dominic Thiem, of Austria, during the fourth round of the US Open tennis championships in New York on September 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Seth Wenig
A steady if unspectacular season comes to a close for Canada’s Auger-Aliassime

A steady if unspectacular season comes to a close for Canada’s Auger-Aliassime

Sacramento Kings' Alex Len (25) collects a rebound against Brooklyn Nets' Jarrett Allen (31) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Aug. 7, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ashley Landis
Raptors continue to shore up frontcourt, signing Alex Len to one-year deal

Raptors continue to shore up frontcourt, signing Alex Len to one-year deal

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Freeland says Liberals will deliver economic, fiscal update on Nov. 30

Freeland says Liberals will deliver economic, fiscal update on Nov. 30

Canadian Joint Operations Commander Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau speaks during a news conference on the recent Canadian Forces helicopter crash, Tuesday, May 19, 2020 in Ottawa. The Canadian Armed Forces is preparing to formally apologize to victims of sexual misconduct. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canadian Armed Forces to formally apologize to victims for sexual misconduct

Canadian Armed Forces to formally apologize to victims for sexual misconduct

Alberta Liberal Party David Khan at a campaign stop in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 11, 2019. The Alberta Liberal Party says its leader, David Khan, is stepping down. A news release from the party on Sunday evening says Khan is accepting a new job in law. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta Liberal Party says leader, David Khan, stepping down to accept new job in law

Alberta Liberal Party says leader, David Khan, stepping down to accept new job in law

Most Read