Tuesday, 31 March 2015 15:16

College president not worried about budget cuts to post-secondary

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It's 154 pages long and has caused a lot of debate and angst among some people, but Budget 2015 wasn’t totally unexpected explains Medicine Hat College President and CEO Denise Henning.

“There were still a lot of positives in spite of the decline in provincial funding,” explains Henning, adding some sectors were cut worse. “We were working anyways towards streamlining and changing ... We have to change. Higher education as a whole has to change. I’ve been saying we are getting ‘future-ready’ and future changing and (the time is now). It’s just been a little more pre-determined for us.”
The new course for the college began in May and the college president says the board and financial experts have them on a “nice path” because they were already trying to get the college ready for less funding and more self-reliance. This involves partnerships with southeast Alberta business and governments as well as development of their own self-sustaining programs.
Henning echoes provincial government statements that the province has to get away from the boom-bust mentality which is based on oil revenues. She says the volatility caused by such an economy can’t be sustained by the college.
MHC had to deal with budget decreases before a few years ago.
In the actual budget which was tabled by finance minister Robin Campbell March 26, “there is $5.2 billion budgeted in 2015-16 for post-secondary operations. A recent national comparison indicated Alberta universities receive 58 per cent of their operating revenue from the government, compared to 42  per cent in Ontario and the national average of 53 per cent.”
Having worked in administration in provincial economies not based on petroleum prices (University of Regina and Northwest Community College in British Columbia), Henning realizes the institutions have to get their own house in order. She is always watching trends and does her research on what the economics are and what post-secondary institutions may face.
“Nothing surprises me,” adds Henning.
MHC’s Vice-President of Administration and Finance Wayne Resch echoed Henning’s thoughts about the college trying to leave behind old ways of funding.
“Very much how the province through the whole budget presentation is talking about trying to take their reliance off of oil, MHC is trying to go through a process where it takes its reliance off government funding,” he told Peggy Revell of the Medicine Hat News.
This is exactly what the provincial government wants as in its highlights statement for the budget. While the government states publicly funded post-secondary institutions will receive $2 billion in base operating grants this year, they want “to ensure Alberta’s post-secondary education system remains sustainable into the future, the system will be transitioned over the next five years into a model that reduces reliance on government funding. As a result, Campus Alberta base grant funding will be reduced by 1.4 per cent in 2015-16 and 2.7 per cent in 2016-17.”
For Medicine Hat, that Campus Alberta funding change equates into a decrease of more than $400,000 in funding this upcoming year alone. Further in its capital plan there does not appear to be any funding for Medicine Hat. There is $1.1 billion over five years targeted for post-secondary facilities. However, NAIT ($124 million); NorQuest College ($120 million), University of Calgary ($105 million) and $70 million (University of Lethbridge) are the only ones listed in the 10-page Fiscal Plan 2015-2020 Capital Plan.
Over the next few months, the budget’s impact will come to full fruition as the College administration figures out its exact plan. Henning says it would be naive to think students and staff will not see any kind of change to the current status quo, but that is where consultations with the public come into play.
“We’ve got to be flexible ... We cannot (as an industry) sustain what we are doing and it’s how we respond to it which will determine our success. We (at MHC) will enhance our services with the staff leading us into the future ... (the change) will make us better.”
Another post-secondary notable from the provincial budget include enhancements to student aid programs result in $14 million or a 6.6 per cent increase in the budget, to $227 million in 2015-16.
(With files from Peggy Revell, Medicine Hat News)

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Ryan Dahlman

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