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In the course of a recent presentation to Quebec's National Assembly Education Commis-sion, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum delivered a simple message. "...our core challenge here is a financial one. We need more money." Dealing with that constant challenge, and many other financial and administrative issues from infrastructure to food services is Dr. Morty Yalovsky, Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance). The Reporter spoke to him recently about McGill's pressing need for additional funding and other initiatives in 2004-2005.
What is the current financial situation for McGill? Are we getting more money from the government?
No. The situation is that after three years of reinvesting in education, the government did not have the money to continue the reinvestment program in 2003-2004 and beyond. What this has done is put a tremendous strain on the universities, particularly since $375 million was required to bring the Quebec university system up to the national average funding levels. That was in 2002. Clearly the situation in Quebec is that the universities are underfunded, and we believe the gap has widened. In particular, McGill suffers because of additional underfunding that is built into the funding formula. As a result, McGill faces an operating deficit this year of $8 million dollars. And we need $100 million per year in new funding just to remain competitive.
How is this current financial situation and uncertainty affecting the University?
It's a profound problem. Funding is a key issue to us for a number of reasons. It is key to our academic renewal, administrative and support renewal, and the renewal of our physical infrastructure. Our priority is to maintain our high teaching and research standards. There is also a very large bill to pay for the problems of deferred maintenance and the upgrading of our buildings. McGill has been trying to address the above situation by borrowing and dealing with the most urgent of deferred maintenance issues. The reason we're prepared to borrow is that we estimate that the cost of borrowing is less than the cost of delaying repairs.
What is McGill doing to address the funding problem?
First and foremost, we want the Quebec government to act on the Education Commission's recommendation and provide funding for Quebec universities at a level at least equal to the Canadian average. We've got to make that recommendation a reality. We're also working on obtaining increased contributions from the federal government in terms of funding indirect costs of research. These are two major sources of revenue which we hope to start to see over the next year or so. We're also exploring other sources of funding — from philanthropy including foundations, for example, but these are not a substitute for adequate public funding. In other provinces, programs in which private funds have been matched with public funds have been a remarkable success.
How do tuition fees and tuition fee increases fit into this picture?
I wish the government had sufficient funding to be able to bring Quebec's university sector funding to national levels. The government says it does not. The government has to decide how it will fund Quebec universities adequately and must decide on the appropriate share that students should pay for their education. Our position, and I want to make this very clear, is that any increase in tuition should be accompanied with an increase in student aid. Tuition fees for Quebec students have been frozen since 1994. There haven't even been adjustments for inflation for Quebec students. There are some difficult decisions that the government will have to make.
Obviously funding is a major issue, but what about the administrative side? What are the priorities in 2004-2005?
We have a lot of initiatives related to two basic areas. One is education and staff development. We're re-introducing professional development, performance dialogue and embarked on a whole series of courses designed to provide development opportunities through all levels throughout the University. It's an investment in our current staff and our future staff. The other area we're working on is enhanced quality of service — where we've already had some success. We've introduced a facilities call centre which is a different type of approach for dealing with maintenance type issues. We've introduced a new electronic appointment-form process this year. We're now looking at research administration and ways which would make it easier for the researcher to administer their grants from the time of application to the time the grant is reported on. And we are restructuring our approach to deal with health and safety within the University including the establishment of the first joint advisory committee composed of students, faculty and administrative and support staff
One administrative issue which has generated controversy is the question of food services on campus. How do you intend to proceed on this?
By consulting with students, faculty and staff on how to improve food services across our downtown campus and using that process to come up with a plan that meets most of the needs of the McGill community. To do this, the University is establishing a Dining-at-McGill Advisory Committee made up of students, faculty and staff. The Committee will consider how best to provide: services, choice, quality, convenient hours, uniform standards, uniform pricing, appropriate environmental practices and pleasant surroundings. It will consider environmental, business and philanthropic practices of food providers. Our objective is to improve food services and we are taking the necessary steps to achieve that. In the meantime, I invite those who have suggestions to present them to the committee. We will be publishing information in the coming weeks on how that can be done.