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Era of government cuts ends
| A little history was made last Monday, both in the life of one vice-principal (acting) and in Quebec education, and Morty Yalovsky was implicated in both.
Having learned of his official appointment as vice-principal (administration and finance) — he's been the acting vp since Phyllis Heaphy's departure last fall — Yalovsky, accompanied by McGill's executive director of financial services Albert Caponi, was off to Quebec City to get the fine details of the education budget, presented last week by Education Minister François Legault.
What they and their counterparts from other Quebec universities learned around the conference table in the Ministry of Education was something no one expected. After at least four decades of the "historical formula," the ministry would change the funding formula. "We were all caught off guard to hear about the new formula since the ministry had called the meeting to talk about the new money," said Caponi.
Not that the ministry said what the new formula would be. That will be determined after further consultation with the province's 14 universities in the coming three to four weeks, explained Yalovsky Tuesday morning.
What was explained was that based on the ministry's computer simulations, the new division of the universities' budget pie would involve a maximum increase in share of one per cent and maximum decrease of the same.
However, said Caponi, "we were given a verbal confirmation that no one would lose part of their share. At worst, it would remain the same." Given that McGill's current portion is 14.33 percent, the marginal gain would be in the order of $12-$13 million for the year 2000-2001 when the whole pie will be in the order of $1.2-$1.3 billion. McGill's "envelope" for 1999-2000 was $171 million.
Regarding McGill's current deficit of $16.5 million, the $100 million in new money announced last week to deal with this universities' deficits will certainly help McGill, but it won't solve every university's deficit woes.
"What the $100 million will do will help the system, but not necessarily individual universities," said Yalovsky, pointing out that École Polytechnique, which has no deficit, will still get its share of the money but may only spend it on "one-time only" things, such as equipment, but not for something like hiring.
Université Laval, on the other hand, with a projected deficit of $40 million for this year (ending May 31, 2000), will only be marginally helped.
McGill's prospects for further reducing its deficit in 2000-2001, however, aren't good, warns Yalovsky. The $143 million in new money allocated for reinvestment won't be nearly enough to finance the deficit of $15 million projected for next year, especially given that $77 million is for targeted areas and the remaining $66 million will be linked to "contrats de performances."
While the criteria to be used by the ministry to judge academic performance remain vague, Yalovsky imagines that such measures as graduation rates, student-professor ratios and number of sections taught per instructor may be used to evaluate a university's performance.
To encourage universities to do their utmost to assure the graduation of graduate students, Deputy Minister of Education Jacques Babin announced at Monday's meeting that the reward for graduating students with master's or doctoral degrees would increase from $600 to $1,000 and from $1,000 to $7,000 respectively, while a BA remains at $500.
This is good news for McGill, which boasts a high level of graduation at every level.
Regardless of what the government has allocated for reinvestment in its universities, McGill is committed to renewal. Over the next 10 years, for instance, Vice-Principal (Academic) Luc Vinet is committed to hiring new faculty both to replace the 200 lost since 1994 and the many -- an estimated half of the current faculty -- who will be retiring during the next decade.
Despite the fact that he's disappointed that the budget doesn't come close to the $650 million asked for by the network of Quebec universities (Education Minister Legault estimates his budget reinvests in universities an average $200 million per year for three years), Vinet is pleased with its orientation.
"They've stopped cutting the oxygen, so the reaction from universities is `Wow, we can start breathing again.' A breakthrough was certainly made," he said last Wednesday after Legault's presentation. Vinet was particularly impressed by the fact that of the $1 billion allocated to education, $600 million is to universities.
He's further impressed by the $190 million in new research funding — much of it earmarked towards universities — allocated by the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology.
Of that amount $40.3 million, over three years, will go to granting agencies like the Fonds FCAR (Formation de chercheurs et l'aide à la recherche), the FRSQ (the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec) and the CQRS (Conseil québécois de la recherche sociale), in such a way as to facilitate "dynamic alliances between various disciplines, sectors and institutions" in order that Quebec research be poised to compete internationally.
In order that the province reap more benefits from its research and from the federal government, the ministry has put $120 million into Valorisation-Recherche Québec toward projects that qualify for funding from federal agencies, such as the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, Genome Canada and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.
"Quebec wants its universities to have their share of federal money," notes Vinet, adding that the VRQ was established to help the province's universities commercialize their inventions. "What we're poor at [in Quebec] is making money with our research."
He also noted that even if Quebec universities cannot offer top salaries, "state-of-the-art facilities can also attract researchers as long as there's a balance between the quality of working conditions and support for the institution. "Research and support for the academy have to go hand in hand."
Whether there will be a balance between the two, remains to be seen. The baseline budget for the coming three years is still unknown, as is the capital budget needed to tend to such outstanding matters as building maintenance and repair. Furthermore, no one knows what will happen after this coming three-year period and if the economy will be able to bear these increases a year or two down the road.
Still, the principal calls this budget "a fascinating beginning." Bernard Shapiro says that now "the challenge is to sustain the momentum. We share the government's objective of a high quality accessible university network and to do that, as we've said all along, would require $650 million annually. The new funds represent about half of what is needed, so it's a good start."