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Town hall financial updates sheds light on Why UNB?, university budget

A financial update that included a discussion of the resource-intensive Why UNB? campaign, an upcoming MOU with the provincial government, and UNB’s plans around their future budget balance was held at the Wu Conference Centre on Thursday afternoon.

Karen Cunningham, vice-president finance and administration, relayed the update by video conference from UNB Saint John, where a similar town hall was held. The nursing staff from Moncton also participated in the town hall by teleconference.

Cunningham began with results from the 2016-2017 financial year, which UNB ended in a $2.6 million net operating deficit.

According to Cunningham, $9.5 million of 2016-2017 budgeted one-time funding came from UNB’s internally restricted net assets to be used to fund several priority expenditure items that were not provided for in the base budget as well as reducing the budgeted structural (or ongoing) deficit.  The actual net operating deficit of the University was $1.5 million, approximately $1.0 million better than budget.

UNB’s Board of Governors approved a deficit budget in this for 2017-18, which included transfers from internally restricted net assets of $2.5 million to reduce the budgeted structural deficit from $4.8 million to $2.3 million. 

The Why UNB? campaign is entering the third and final pilot year and will be receiving an additional $4.1 million of funding from 2017-2018’s internally restricted funds.

Why UNB? Campaign enters its final trial year, talks of renewal in next year’s budget

When the Why UNB? campaign was launched in 2015, there were talks of extending the project to eight years if the metrics looked promising after the initial three—and the UNB administration believes that the campaign has worked.

Cunningham said the campaign has provided very positive results in developing awareness, and while no clear correlation could be drawn, she said Dal and UNB have had the least decline in Atlantic university enrolment numbers and the highest investment in advertising and recruiting.

“We would be foolish not to invest in some sort of marketing and advertising given results to date,” said Cunningham during her presentation.

However, some feel that these results are not as evident as the administration makes them out to be, and that the campaign has actually failed in achieving the metrics that the initial proposal outlined.

Vladimir Tasic, professor in the department of mathematics, said that in a presentation delivered at the onset of the campaign they were given the precise number of 582 new student enrolments during the 2017-2018 academic year. However, UNB has only seen an enrolment increase of one student.

Tasic added that if the pilot was going to succeed according to the metrics provided in this initial presentation, 960 new student enrolments would need to occur in the 2018-19 academic year.

“It is a significant amount of money and we’re hearing that we’re in a deficit, so you know it’s quite a concern. We need to have some justification of how that money’s being spent; I’m not hearing any,” Tasic said.

Vice-president academic George MacLean, who moderated the post-presentation Q&A on the Fredericton side, said their success was something that required thought “beyond the numbers” and cited success in their fundraising campaign, research-funding acquisition and increased enrolment numbers from Alberta and Ontario as proof of the campaign’s effectiveness.

“Fundamentally, it’s the kind of thing that we’re going to be more engaged in if we’re going to be successful in bringing the kinds of students that we’re looking for and be able to offer the kinds of programs that we’ve built our reputation on,” said MacLean.

MacLean also noted that contention about the campaign could arise.

“It’s something different that the university has not done in the past—not all universities get involved in active marketing campaigns. We are in a deficit and it is a significant budget line, so all of those things [..] make it inherently controversial, I think. […] It’s a case that really needs to be made to our colleagues that this is not extravagant,” said MacLean.

When planning for the future, Cunningham revealed that UNB had been planning to have its budget balanced by the 2019-2020 fiscal year—the first time the university’s revenue will match its expenses since 2007-2008.

MOU with province delays balanced budget

However, this budget-balancing is occurring a year after it was originally intended, which Cunningham says is due to the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between UNB and the provincial government. The MOU is currently in its final drafting stages.

The MOU process began in February after the provincial government announced that they had increased funding by $45 million, to be divided between all post-secondary publicly-funded institutions. Through MOUs, the province and the institutions have been seeking agreements for the funding of pilot projects and predictability of government funding and tuition for students.

Cunningham said the MOU is valid over a three-year period and should guarantee an annual one per cent increase in UNB’s operating budget—a first since the provincial government froze the operation grant in 2014-15.

Despite the government’s commitment to increasing the operating budget—which was frozen again this year—Cunningham says they will still need to reduce their expenses to balance the budget by 2020-2021.

Lloyd Waugh, a civil engineering professor, asked what those reductions would be, but Cunningham and MacLean both said that it was too soon to tell.

Janice El-Bayoumi, director of quality assurance and process management at UNB Fredericton ITS, followed up Waugh’s question by asking whether staff and faculty would be notified “in a timely manner.”

In response, Cunningham said she would try to provide more information at the next town hall in spring 2018.

“I will endeavour to be as transparent as I can without getting into the weeds,” Cunningham said.

Overall, MacLean said he was pleased with how the town hall unfolded.

“I think it went well. Not only did we have really insightful questions, but I think that there were some suggestions that were being made that can really help us as we’re trying to improve this process.”

 

Corrections: A previous version of this story said that UNB was planning to balance the budget by 2019-2020. The plan is now for 2020-2021. The previous version also said that the $4.1 million structural deficit will be reduced to $3.2 million. It is really $4.8 million reduced to $2.3 million. 

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