Academic growth and administrative funding challenges in budget
Support for core science infrastructure planning at Memorial University and new funding for its Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and the Marine Institute were among the highlights of the provincial budget according to the institution's president, Dr. Gary Kachanoski.
But the president also pointed out that the budget includes cuts to administrative funding that were expected as part of the government's austerity program. He also expressed concerns regarding cuts to anticipated funding to deal with the university's deferred maintenance problem.
"One of our major priorities is the development of new core science learning and research facilities," said Dr. Kachanoski. "Memorial's existing science infrastructure was largely developed in the 1960s. This budget will enable us to start the planning process for creating more 21st-century facilities to grow our research and education programs and to support the future diversification of the province's economy."
The budget specifically mentioned infrastructure planning. It stated: "The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador recognizes the critical role of modern infrastructure at Memorial University to propel its economic strategy, especially related to ocean science and technology. The provincial government will work closely with Memorial to identify priorities and begin the planning process for future projects."
Dr. Kachanoski welcomed the initiative: "We look forward to working with government and others in the science and tech community in the province to develop the plans for this much-needed infrastructure renewal program."
On the administrative side, Memorial will have to find about $3 million per year in cost savings from the funding it receives from the Department of Advanced Education and Skills. The university's Faculty of Medicine, whose funding comes from the Department of Health and Community Services, has been asked to find an additional $850,000 per year in administrative savings.
"While this will be challenging, to an extent this was expected," said Dr. Kachanoski, "especially after the pre-budget comments from the government. Like all other government-funded entities we will have to find those savings.
We're going to focus on administrative savings and ensure that the impact on academic programming and student academic activities is minimal, if at all."
The provincial budget also provided funding for a number of operational initiatives at Memorial. Over $2 million was allocated to increase base funding at the Marine Institute for new and expanded educational programming, research and student services for continued growth in the oceans sector. A further $1.7 million base budget is being made available for expansion of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, enabling enrolment growth, recruitment and enhanced co-operative placement services.
"These are both areas where we had indicated that we need to see growth, especially as Memorial works with government and industry to further advance the ocean technology sector in the province," he said.
The budget included a continuation of the tuition fee freeze at the university, which is coupled with the allocation of special funding that the province provides to ensure the university's operating budget is not negatively affected as a result of the ongoing freeze.
"The province's tuition fee policy has always had two components," explained Dr. Kachanoski. "The fees are frozen for students, but the government provides extra annual funding to ensure that the university can cover additional costs that may have in the past required a tuition fee increase. So, to maintain tuition fees at such a low level and to continue to provide Memorial's top level of instruction and student services, this special funding is required."
The budget also continued funding for a number of ongoing projects and initiatives approved in previous provincial budgets including:
- $40.8 million for the construction of new residences at Memorial University's St. John's and Grenfell campuses for a total commitment of $88.3 million. This will create 500 residence beds in St. John's and 200 residence beds at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook.
- An allocation of $11.2 million to continue modernizing older residences.
- $16 million for the continued construction of the Newfoundland and Labrador Genetics Centre/Faculty of Medicine expansion in St. John's.
- $4.7 million for continuation of science laboratory improvements.
- $10 million for the deferred maintenance program.
On the issue of deferred maintenance, while Dr. Kachanoski welcomed the funding, he pointed out that this was $2 million less than what the university had expected in this budget. Last year the government committed to a three-year deferred maintenance program for Memorial which was to have provided $12 million in 2012.
A consultant completed a study for the university in November 2010 which concluded that the university needed to invest at least $32 million annually until 2026 to reduce its deferred maintenance to a level that would be similar with other major educational institutions across Canada.
"We had expected and planned for $12 million to spend this year to patch up the facilities and now we have $10 million, so this presents a major challenge," said Dr. Kachanoski.
The president further observed that there were other initiatives in the budget that will have both direct and indirect positive implications for Memorial. These include:
- Continued support for expanding the province's broad band Internet capability.
- The implementation of the OceanTech Intelligence Program that will provide assistance to public sector educational institutions for projects that support the growth of the province's ocean technology sector.
- Ongoing support for the Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research and the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation, both at the Marine Institute, and for other fishing industry research and development activities.
"The province's future challenges are significant, especially when it comes to economic diversification," said Dr. Kachanoski. "The university is expected to play a leadership role in providing the infrastructure and the knowledge base on which that diversification can be nurtured. So investments in Memorial – in our students and our research and our infrastructure – are, in reality, investments in the future of the entire province. This budget should enable us to continue to roll out our new Research, Teaching and Learning, and Engagement frameworks."