U of R president challenged by flat provincial funding, potential faculty strike

University of Regina’s president Vianne Timmons said she expected a zero per cent increase to university funding in Saskatchewan’s 2019-20 budget. Mark Taylor / The Canadian Press

University of Regina’s president Vianne Timmons called balancing a looming strike, the students call against a potential tuition hike and no extra funding from the provincial government a “challenge.”

This comes a day after Saskatchewan laid out its 2019-20 provincial budget that showed a zero per cent increase in university funding.

Saskatchewan universities are already working from behind after facing a $44 million cut to their funding in the 2017-18 budget.

“It was expected. The university recognizes the province was working towards a balanced budget and they made that clear in all of their media and all of their statements,” Timmons said.

It may have been expected, but for students who may see their semester cut short and graduation pushed back due to a possible strike, the news didn’t sit well.

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“We’re really disappointed to hear that tuition will most likely be going up again,” said Shawn Wiskar, University of Regina Students’ Union president on Wednesday.

In the 2018-19 budget, students at the U or R were hit with a 2.8 per cent tuition increase, while tuition at the University of Saskatchewan went up by 4.8 per cent.

“We are calling on the government to freeze tuition or at the very least come up with a sustainable plan so students aren’t left in limbo for what their tuition costs are going to look like over the tenure of their university degree,” Wiskar said.

The province believes the $469 million they’ve committed to the universities in the 2019-20 provincial budget should be enough leave tuition as is.

“The province is funding our institutions very well and they are responsible for setting tuition rates and their tuition rates are currently some of the highest tuition rates in the country,” said Tina Beaudry-Mellor advanced education minister.

“I think there are some efficiencies to be found.”

U of R administration and the U of R Faculty Association (URFA) have not been able to reach a new collective agreement for academic staff, since expiring in 2017.

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The two sides met last week, but weren’t able to come to an agreement. They’re scheduled to meet early next week. If an agreement is not reached, it could result in a strike or lockout as early as March 28.

“I believe in our bargaining process and I am positive that process will work itself out. We have more days of bargaining coming up and I’m hopeful we will reach an agreement,” Timmons said.

“I want to ensure students that the University of Regina is very concerned about the labour situation.”

With no extra funding over the past two years from the province, Timmons said the university has been trying to cut costs.

“We have natural cost increases that happen all the time every year at the university and we are trying our best to mitigate any negative impact,” Timmons said.

“We’ve been really working hard on efficiencies and revenue generations.”

Things they have done include reducing the number of printers, saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars while replacing inefficient boilers and lights to help reduce energy costs.

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Timmons said all she can hope for at this point is an increase in funding in next year’s budget.

“They’ve got a balanced budget, because that was their priority, and our hope as we look into the future is that we’re seen as an economic driver in this province and there is investment.”

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