Several hundred members of the Brock community turned out at Sean O’Sullivan Theatre on Nov. 13 and 14 for a series of town hall forums organized to discuss the University’s fiscal environment.
Led by Brian Hutchings, Vice-President of Finance and Administration, the sessions examined the need for Brock to get out of recurring deficits that have averaged about $6.5-million over the past five years.
Hutchings said many Canadian campuses are keeping up with costs by admitting more students, but Brock – with enrolment now over 19,000 – is running out of classroom space.
“Universities are hiding behind student growth,” he said, “but at Brock we can’t do that anymore.”
Factors behind this year’s deficit include a $5.8-million pension shortfall, $4.8-million in operating costs and debt payment for the Cairns Complex, and $2.5-million needed for deferred maintenance across the University.
Government funding cuts also took $2.5-million from revenues, including a cap on tuition and cuts to grants for operating costs and to help cover property taxes.
In June, Brock’s Board of Trustees directed administration to reduce this year’s deficit from a forecast $14.5 million down to $7 million. Hutchings said they hope to find much of the short-term savings through six-month hiring delays for vacancies, encouraging staff to buy extra vacation time, reviewing positions for redundancies, and deferring non-essential equipment purchases. All money saved through unspent salary or benefits will go directly to deficit relief.
Looking ahead, if the current budget model were left unchanged, deficits would soar past $20-million, $26-million and $30-million respectively in the next three years. But Hutchings said that’s not an option, because the Board of Trustees has directed administration to balance the books by 2014-15.
He implored the Brock community to work together to find structural changes that could save money or generate revenue and help get the University into sustainable financial health.
Efforts have already begun toward restoring Brock to financial balance, including a program review that is currently underway. But Hutchings said that is only part of the answer.
“The program review is not a silver bullet for the deficit problem.”
Other change could come from value-for-money lean reviews, labour relations outcomes, new Development initiatives plus other undiscovered opportunities to develop alternate revenue sources.