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The next BOG meeting will be held June 20. Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik.

The University of Ottawa’s Board of Governors met on May 27 to approve and discuss the university’s 2019-20 budget, with the Ford government’s upcoming changes to the post-secondary sector at the forefront. 

After a balanced budget in the 2018-19 academic year the university will run a $17.4 million deficit this year, due in part to the province’s 10 per cent tuition reduction for domestic students for the 2019-20 academic year, frozen into the following year. The budget notes this will cost the university around $33 million in the 2019-20 year and $45 million in the following one.

Another policy will shift how universities receive funding from the province. Currently, a minute amount of the close to $5 billion in funding the government gives to universities (1.4 per cent) is tied to performance, measured by graduation rates and employment after graduation.

But the current agreement universities have with the province ends in March 2020, when the province plans to tie 25 per cent of post-secondary operating funding to these performance measures, increasing by a rate of 10 per cent annually until it reaches 60 per cent in the 2024-25 academic year.

It’s unclear as of now how this shift in funding would impact the university’s financial situation, but the budget points out the proportion of the university’s operating fund financed by provincial grants will dip below 40 per cent for the first time in the 2019-20 year.

“The university hopes to meet the budgetary challenge posed by the Ontario government without imposing across-the-board cuts to the faculties and services,” the budget reads. “To do so, the university has developed a two-year outlook for the Operating Fund with the goal of continuing its various institutional projects while quickly reducing the Operating Fund deficit over the next two years.”

The budget says the university plans to run a deficit to $12.8 million in the 2020-21 academic year and $14.1 million in the following year. The budget adds the deficit is not expected to be long term.

“(The university) was dealt a very bad hand by the province and had to make some pretty significant changes very rapidly … (but) I think it’s clear the school is adapting as best they can,” incoming University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) advocacy commissioner Sam Schroeder said of the deficit.

“I think it’s a shame to see the tuition rate for new international students go up by (12 per cent),” he added. “If they continue to use them as a way of making up for lost revenue they’ll eventually run the risk of losing their competitive edge.”

“The new provincial rules around not only ancillary fees but regarding funding and grants as well is putting students in an incredibly vulnerable place,” said Tiyana Maharaj, one of the UOSU’s organizers.

The budget also outlines areas of the university which remain underfunded, including research ($8 to $12 million), building and campus maintenance ($15 to $20 million), francophonie and bilingualism initiatives ($30 million), and support for students with disabilities, which currently has an unknown amount of underfunding.

Jennifer Quaid, a U of O law professor on the BOG, raised concerns of the upcoming provincial Student Choice Initiative, where students will be able to opt-out of certain non-tuition fees, along with underfunding for students with disabilities.

While Quaid praised the UOSU for raising the Student Academic Success Service (SASS) fee in their April referendum, up from $2.44 to $7.43 per semester, she pointed to the growing need for counselling and psychology services on campus.

David Graham, vice president (academic) and provost, noted the need for support is growing faster than the university’s ability to put money towards the services.

“We were able to increase funding for SASS and I’m working with Jamie Ghossein (an undergraduate BOG member) to ensure it’s put towards staff and systems that will actually help students,” Maharaj added. “But when you consider the lack of mental health services on campus and the new rules about performance-based operating grants, I think students will absolutely feel the effects.”

The BOG will meet next month on June 20 where a student services report will be discussed.