The administration has made it increasingly clear in public presentations – as well as behind closed doors – that jobs and salaries will likely bear the brunt of the provincial government’s budget cuts, though there have been no concrete announcements about where the axe will fall.
In a series of ever-changing directives from the government, the administration received the news last Friday that the University would lose its $32-million conditional grant should it fail to cut at least $9.6 million from its current budget by April.
The government had already told the University that it would be receiving $38 million less in operating grants between this fiscal year and the next, but this latest announcement means the University cannot simply absorb the loss of revenue into its accumulated deficit. Instead, it must show that it has cut spending by the equivalent of 50 per cent of this loss in revenue – roughly $19 million – before April 2014.
The government is waiving certain accounting rules in an attempt to help universities deal with the budget cuts recently imposed, but McGill is emphatic that these measures will not help.
Higher Education Deputy Minister Chrystine Tremblay told university administrators last Friday that universities would now be allowed to shift money from their previously restricted capital budgets to their operating budgets, according to the Journal de Québec.
The reverse has been standard practice across the province – and at McGill – for over a decade. In the 2011-2012 fiscal year alone, universities shifted $275 million from their operating budgets to their capital budgets.
Operating budgets are traditionally earmarked for teaching and day-to-day operations, whereas capital budgets pay for building and infrastructure costs.
VP (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa told The Daily that McGill is not considering shifting money allocated for capital projects back into its operating budget.
“We have so many demands, and such a shortage of capital funds that that really wouldn’t do anything to transfer money. It would just put a deficit on the other side… I don’t think that’s something that’s [suitable] for McGill,” Di Grappa said.
McGill estimated $647 million in urgent maintenance work in its most recent budget.
The province has also temporarily lifted restrictions on conditional grant deficits, and Di Grappa admitted that “there was no question” McGill would in fact run a deficit this year.
Administration officials told union presidents at a meeting Wednesday morning that “headcount scenarios,” in which staff numbers could be cut, would be released in the upcoming days.
Administrators floated the idea of closing the school, the library, or certain community services such as the dental clinic for a week in a symbolic gesture against the government’s actions, according to people at the meeting who spoke to The Daily.
“There are all kinds of unpleasant scenarios in trying to meet a cut of this size…. Everything has to be on the table, because the University’s long-term survival depends on [it],” Provost Anthony Masi told members of the University community at a Town Hall this Tuesday. “This is unprecedented, it’s an assault on higher education in the province.”
Masi also noted that cuts to Quebec’s three main research councils would hit McGill – a research-intensive university – especially hard. This would remove one possibility for “indirect cost recovery,” since McGill would be unable to obtain additional research grants.
Although Masi did not give his Town Hall presentation “to announce a package of bad measures” he did reiterate several times that 75 per cent of the University’s $590-million operating budget is spent on salaries and benefits.
Masi did not consider in his presentation the list of suggested measures the provincial government had recommended to universities just this Friday, and only made mention of the operating grant.