‘There are probably going to be job losses’: U of C looks to minimize impact of impending cuts

Facing another round of provincial budget cuts in 2021, the University of Calgary says there will undoubtedly be job cuts.

Speaking with CBC News following a virtual town hall on Tuesday, university president Ed McCauley said impending provincial budget cuts and an eventual transition to performance-based provincial funding means the school will need to find efficiencies in its next budget. 

“The magnitude of the budget cuts that we’re talking about are very, very large,” he said.

“Our campus operating grant has already been reduced from $475 million and it’s going to be continued, we predict, down to $375 million by 2022-2023.”

McCauley said when the university’s budget was cut last school year, they moved quickly. 

“We recognized the magnitude of the problem and unfortunately had to lay off 500 people. We didn’t want to move the problem down the road. We wanted to actually confront that problem right away,” he said. 

But, with the upcoming cuts, McCauley said the university isn’t in the clear. 

“There are also probably going to be job losses,” he said.

McCauley said officials are looking at every possibility to minimize further layoffs. 

“We’re looking at things like retirement schemes, we’re looking at things like if somebody leaves university or or retires about not replacing that person,” he said. “Job loss through attrition, not necessarily through layoffs.”    

Speaking during the town hall, U of C provost and vice-president Dru Marshall said they’ll also be looking at departmental structures and finding ways to streamline services. 

“If we look at administrative costs here, we can see some small faculty that have the identical structure to large faculties, even though they’re a tenth of the size. So that tells us the administrative costs are probably too high,” she said.

 “We look at departmentalized structure and we see some barriers that happen within units. Really this will be about streamlining what it is we’re trying to do and how we can get to a much more efficient and fast moving structure.”​

Looking for efficiencies

McCauley used student counselling services as an example of what this could look like. 

“If there are small faculties who have, for example, student counselling that might be done right now within a faculty, maybe that student counselling could be provided in a partner model across three faculties,” he said. “That would enable students to get the appropriate counselling, but it might gain in efficiencies.”

With a goal of saving millions of dollars by 2022 and reducing dependency on provincial government funding, which has been reduced, the University of Alberta outlined three academic restructuring scenarios earlier this month that are under consideration. They all involve consolidating faculties to save administrative costs. 

McCauley said the situation at the U of C is different than the one facing the U of A. 

“We have demonstrated that we are effective and we are efficient in terms of administrative costs. We have much lower administrative costs at the University of Calgary compared to the University of Alberta,” he said. 

“We’re in a different position from the University of Alberta. And what I’ve been trying to do is to explain to the government, the ministers, the minister of finance and so on, the unique position the University of Calgary is in in trying to deliver our student experience.”

That’s where the U of C’s Growth Through Focus plan comes into play, according to McCauley. 

“We’re going to need to break down silos. We’re going to get to strike partnerships and act quickly and be nimble as well as being focused. These all sound like trite phrases, but I think that’s really, really important to recognize these, given the imperatives for change that we face as a university and as a city,” he said. 

McCauley said the Growth Through Focus plan includes a plan to increase the enrolment at the university from 33,000 to 37,000 by 2030, and increasing alternative revenues by $600 million to $2 billion in the same timeframe.

Partnerships with industry groups and donations from community members and alumni will be a big part of growing the U of C’s revenue streams. 

“It’s challenging talking around partnerships at a time when all components of our society have been suffering from either the COVID-19 or as well, the global recession,” he said.

“It’s going to be hard, but we have a lot of talent at the University of Calgary. We’ve got a lot of things that we can actually bring to our community partners to help them and to also help us.”

McCauley said the university is focused on making sure that its communities understand the value proposition at the University of Calgary and what it can contribute as a partner. 

“It is about forming the synergy where we really are working together on some of these big, important problems.”

McCauley said the university will be launching an engagement process on Oct. 19 to hear more from stakeholders about their thoughts on the Growth Through Focus plan, and how the university can move forward as provincial funds continue to decrease.

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