Senate: Budget considerations for FY2010 updated

By Chris Chipello

While no decisions have been made on how to meet the University’s budget target for next year, the recently formed task force examining that challenge has identified a range of potential cost-saving measures.

On March 25, in an update on budget planning for the 2009-10 fiscal year, Provost Anthony C. Masi told the Senate that the University must fill a gap of $12 million to $15 million in order to meet its operating-deficit target of $5 million for the coming year.

It’s not that the University’s operating revenues are plunging.  In fact, revenues are currently projected to rise by 5.5 per cent in 2009-10 – but that growth would be outstripped by a projected 6.5 per cent increase in expenditures.  Without cost-saving measures, the budget would thus point to a deficit of approximately $17 million.

For 2008-09, the University has committed to posting an annual deficit of no more than $10 million – down from $16.9 million a year earlier.  The University’s deficit-reduction program requires the budget gap to narrow to $5 million for 2009-10, followed by balanced budgets in the years thereafter.  Those long-term targets were put in place in order to position the University to begin paying down its accumulated deficit, which is expected to top $70 million by the end of the

current fiscal year.

“Painful as it may be,” the University needs to “consider all options” for meeting its target in the year ahead, Masi said.

What could those options include?

Masi touched on an array of potential measures raised by the Provost’s Administrative Task Force on Dealing with Economic Uncertainty. The options range from adjusting building temperatures by a couple of degrees to save energy, to delaying salary increases by six months (a potential $6 million savings – but one that would require opening discussions with all employee groups).

Other ideas include reducing the number of classes with fewer than 10 students and curbing information-technology spending;  IT savings could come, for example, from prolonging the cycle for upgrading computers in some areas.  Another, longer-term idea, suggested by students: condense the semester to 12 weeks and add a full summer semester.

On the revenue-generating side, Masi noted that the University would like to see the Quebec government extend re-regulation of international tuition to all foreign students – not just those enrolled in certain disciplines.

At this point, none of the many possible measures are carved in stone, Masi stressed. Indeed, it would be more accurate to say that they are “etched in ice,” he noted. “And you know what happens when ice heats up. Nonetheless we have to meet our commitments to reduce our operating deficit.”