Economic crisis threatens staffing, student aid

Salaried positions might be cut, along with scholarships and bursaries

Post-secondary administrators across the country say the global economic crisis is threatening everything from staffing levels to scholarships, and one Ontario school announced Thursday it plans to cut tens of millions of dollars from its budget.

Wilfrid Laurier University needs to cut its operating budget by nearly 16 per cent over three years – about $31 million – to address “unprecedented financial challenges” that are affecting the university sector, said president Max Blouw.

“I think it’s a bit premature to judge at this time what will be the targets of scaled-back expenditures … but it’s almost certain that some salaried positions will in fact be impacted, and I don’t think I can reasonably say that won’t be the case,” he said.

“And scholarships and bursaries, the way in which we attract the most qualified, talented students, might be impacted.”

A precipitous drop in the value of pension and endowment funds and insufficient funding from the provincial government made the upcoming cuts a necessity, Blouw said.

The University of Toronto made a similar announcement a few weeks ago in disclosing plans to hold off on planned wage increases for its president, vice-presidents and vice-provosts, principals and deans, and some senior administrative staff.

“We are already feeling these financial pressures, and it appears that the situation will be materially more difficult in 2009-2010 and perhaps again in 2010-2011,” president David Naylor said in a message on the school’s website.

“I ask that all faculty and staff work collaboratively to contain expenditures with an eye not only to immediate challenges but especially to 2009-2010.”

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada says schools across the country are facing similar struggles and is calling on the federal government to provide $2.4 billion in infrastructure funding in its upcoming budget to avert any further cuts.

Blouw said Laurier may alter its planned cuts in the years ahead, but it all depends on when financial markets recover.

The budget is pricing in a scenario in which there is no quick relief from the government and no significant market rebound through the end of the year.

“While it is anticipated markets will recover, based on what we know today that recovery is not expected to be fast enough, or dramatic enough, to substantially mitigate the issues we face,” he said.

Laurier’s pension fund has lost more than 20 per cent of its value in the past year, and the school is concerned universities won’t be getting year-end funding from the provincial government to address structural deficits.

– The Canadian Press