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UCP denies University of Alberta request for budget flexibility, planned layoffs will go forward despite COVID-19 crisis

University of Alberta, Dec. 10, 2013.
University of Alberta, Dec. 10, 2013. Emily Mertz, Global News

University of Alberta president David Turpin said that despite attempts to work with the government to “reach an agreement,” mass layoffs due to the 2020 provincial budget will go forward, amid the COVID-19 crisis.

In a blog post Monday, Turpin said the cuts will lead to the loss of over 1,000 jobs at the school, through retirements, attrition, layoffs, and position closures.

The UCP passed its budget last week, adding an additional $500-million boost to the province’s front-line health care workers to help fight COVID-19. But the cuts to post-secondary funding remain, including a $110-million cut to U of A funding, said Turpin.

READ MORE: UCP passes 2020 budget with boost for healthcare during coronavirus outbreak

“The emergence of this public health crisis has put added stress on everyone,” he said.

“Regrettably it has not changed or slowed the government timelines related to budget.

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“Early last week, the provincial government passed its 2020 budget, confirming changes and reductions to post-secondary funding, including a deep cut to the U of A.”

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Turpin said the university had been working with the UCP, along with other post-secondary institutions in the province, to reach an agreement to have severance costs from layoffs deficit financed. However, Turpin said the request was denied.

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“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am to share this news with you,” Turpin said.

“It means that we must continue to move forward with plans for restructuring units and positions.”

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Alberta’s Ministry of Advanced Education told Global News on Tuesday that it believed the University of Alberta was not operating in a fiscally prudent way.

“The University of Alberta’s overspending is longstanding and well documented,” said Laurie Chandler, advanced education press secretary, in a statement. “This is especially true on administration costs.

“Over the last decade, funding has grown 106 per cent, while enrollment has only grown 21 per cent,” said Chandler.

“On administration, Alberta institutions spend $8,372 per full time student, where British Columbia spends $4,233 and Ontario spends $4,910.”

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Chandler added the government has brought in a six-month, interest-free moratorium on student loan payments as part of its response to COVID-19.

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

Turpin said that the University of Alberta will be required to table its 2020-21 budget by March 31, which includes proposals for raising tuition and residence fees, deferring capital projects, and closing buildings.

“These actions will mitigate some of the impact of a total $110M cut in government funding, but the remaining cuts are extraordinarily deep,” Turpin said.

Approximately 400 positions at the university have or will be eliminated by March 31, Turpin said, and another 635 will be cut for 2020-21.

The university has been working to mitigate risks from COVID-19: it announced a transition to online classes on March 17. The university also requested students move out of residences by March 24, although international and out-of-province students will be allowed to stay.

The institution also confirmed over the weekend that the first U of A student had tested positive for the virus.

READ MORE: Post-secondary institutions in Alberta urge students to vacate residences over COVID-19 outbreak

“This is an extraordinarily difficult situation for everyone, especially when we are also responding to COVID-19,” Turpin said in his blog post.

“I want to assure the community that, even as we make difficult budget decisions, the university will not compromise our commitment to ensuring the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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How the University of Alberta is responding to the coronavirus pandemic
How the University of Alberta is responding to the coronavirus pandemic