Negotiations Planning in Tough Economic Times

Going into negotiations we have to consider that the largest source of revenue for the university is the operating grant from the Government of Saskatchewan. With this year’s provincial deficit now projected to be $1.2B and growing, and where “everything is on the table,” what  will this mean for our university? Will the U of S be able to buck the trend of acquiescing to transformation solely as a panicked reaction to dire financial threats? Is this shaping up to be a smoke-and-mirrors “TransformUS” scenario, round two, only this time more transparently driven by a government agenda?

The Crown sector, publicly-funded institutions and the public service are being asked to pony up through clawbacks of 4–5%, cutbacks, wage freezes and voluntarily opening closed collective agreements. Not yet known are the implications for universities in this province, but we have already witnessed the impact of the Ministry of Advanced Education’s proposed “transformational change” on our university.

We have seen $20 million withheld from the university’s grant in 2015–16, a 0% increase in the 2016–17 base operating grant from Advanced Education and a subsequent clawback of $20 million.

Messaging from university administration is already sobering. The Operations Forecast for 2017–18, which provides information requested by the Ministry of Advanced Education to support the university’s funding request, notably includes a statement on the impact of 0% growth in the base provincial operating grant.

The university forecast indicates that a 0% increase now would amount to a funding reduction of $19.1 million by 2019–20, equivalent to:

  • the annual operating budget of the College of Agriculture and Bioresources and the School of Public Health combined; or
  • 115 members of the total faculty complement of 1,049 or 11% of the university’s faculty; or
  • 221 ASPA employees (17% of employees); or
  • graduate and undergraduate combined tuition rate increases of 16.2% over three years (pp. 27–8).

Such dire scenarios in the operations forecast are troubling. While the university cautions that it does not intend to implement such drastic cuts, there is no question that this forecast signals the potential of a significant impact on our programs and units. The threat posed to the autonomy and independence of the university as a result of cutbacks in concert with funding targeted to specific initiatives is not the only concern: no less troubling is the potential impact these cuts will have on the lives of all the people who make up our university community.

We invite you to reply to this email and share with our team your experiences or reflections on this issue as we prepare for negotiations.