UPEI walks a fine line in new budget

University president says delivering balanced budget will be difficult

Ryan Ross rross@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on March 19, 2013
Dr. Alaa Abd-El-Aziz, president and vice-chancellor at UPEI, spoke to the Summerside Rotary Club breakfast meeting.
Nancy MacPhee/Journal Pioneer

UPEI is facing challenges in trying to balance its budget, but that doesn’t mean there will be big program cuts, says the university’s president.

In an interview with The Guardian Monday, UPEI president Alaa Abd-El-Aziz also said the budget committee isn’t ruling anything out when it comes to balancing the books.

“During the preparation for any budget you leave everything on the table,” he said.

Although UPEI won’t release its budget until later this spring, work on it started in October through the budget committee made up of Abd-El-Aziz, the vice-presidents and the university’s comptroller.

The committee met with the deans, directors and managers to look at the possibilities for the coming budget year.

Abd-El-Aziz said a lot of the university’s costs are fixed, such as salaries that are set for the next few years.

What isn’t known is how much the province will give as an operating grant, which Abd-El-Aziz said makes up about half of the university’s budget.

“So any increase or decrease will have substantial effect on what we are going to do,” he said.

UPEI knew it was facing budgetary challenges last year too when the provincial government informed the school it was cutting three per cent of its funding. That left the university with almost $1.4 million less from the province and didn’t help an already tight budget.

Abd-El-Aziz said UPEI still needs to make sure the quality of the university’s education stays high.

“We don’t want the budget to dilute this great education and this great institution,” he said.

As part of Finance Minister Wes Sheridan’s plan to bring the province’s books back to balance, the government is expected to freeze spending in all departments for the next two years.

That makes it unlikely UPEI will get any extra money when Sheridan releases the budget next week.

But unlike the provincial government, which is expected to run a deficit, UPEI is mandated through legislation to balance its books.

Abd-El-Aziz said even with government support, UPEI is still facing some tough decisions, although he wants to make sure the university stays focused on students and the quality of the education they receive.

“At this point I will say no, there is no slashing of programs,” he said.

To help generate revenue, the university has options, including using the campus during the summer months for things like conferences and renting out residence rooms.

Another option is increasing tuition, which is one of the lowest in the Atlantic provinces and went up $200 last year for Canadian undergraduate students.

Abd-El-Aziz said he doesn’t want to see tuition increase beyond students’ ability to pay for their education.

“Before we actually think of increasing the tuition, we think we can increase revenue first,” he said.