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University of Lethbridge cuts 42 positions following Alberta budget

The University of Lethbridge celebrates the launch of a new program.
The University of Lethbridge celebrates the launch of a new program. Global News

Over the past week, the University of Lethbridge cut its workforce by 42, laying off 19 employees across different departments and confirming 23 retirements and resignations.

“These were not easy decisions,” the school’s president Mike Mahon wrote in an online post on Wednesday.

“Our staff and faculty are committed and driven individuals who have created one of the best student and academic cultures in the country.”

The post explained that salaries and benefits make up 83 per cent of the university’s operational expenses. Layoffs were “unavoidable,” Mahon wrote.

READ MORE: Alberta Budget 2020 will impact education in Lethbridge: ‘I don’t know how many layoffs’

According to the post, the university implemented a number of budget strategies over the past several months “for an expected, and now confirmed, reduction to its 2020-21 Campus Alberta Grant.”

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Mahon said the university would now pause on any further rounds of layoffs for the next few months “while we work with government to understand the new budget model and performance-based metrics.”

READ MORE: Universities over-budget; need to freeze travel, hiring, hosting: Alberta government

The university said it has tried to implement other cost-saving measures and made efforts to minimize employee layoffs.

The board of governors voted in February to increase overall tuition by seven per cent as well as to increase various fees. It’s also looking at ways to increase revenue and cut positions through attrition and retirements.

The school offered support to its staff and said it will continue to advocate to the government of Alberta on “the importance of a strong post-secondary sector in the province.”

The United Conservative government released its second budget on Feb. 27 and funding for post-secondary is going down.

Advanced education’s budget is $5.1 billion in 2020-21, a six-per cent cut from the forecast in the last budget. Budget 2020 implements the first phase of a new funding model that includes base funding from the province but one that is also based on a school’s performance.

READ MORE: SAIT to eliminate 230 positions following Alberta budget cuts

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Over three years, the UCP will trim advanced education spending by 10 per cent to “encourage post-secondary institutions to find efficiencies,” the budget document said.

The province also lists post-secondary schools’ “own-source/reserves” as funding sources.

The advanced education minister said comparable provinces are able to deliver effective post-secondary education at a lower cost.

2020 Alberta budget promises and cutbacks
2020 Alberta budget promises and cutbacks

“When we look at Alberta, we have one of the highest cost jurisdictions in the entire country,” Demetrios Nicolaides said.

“On average, it costs about $36,000 per student, whereas in B.C. it’s about $31,000 and in Ontario $21,000. So, we’re confident that learning lessons from other provinces, and being more prudent stewards of taxpayer dollars, that we can deliver high-quality service at a lower cost.”

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He said one challenge is administrative costs.

“One of the numbers that the MacKinnon report demonstrated was that, on a per-student basis, Alberta spends about $8,000 per student on administrative costs, whereas other provinces are substantially less.”