U of A president should cut pay before charging students more, minister says

Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt is suggesting University of Alberta president David Turpin should take a pay cut before charging students more for tuition and residence fees.

University of Alberta president David Turpin earned $824,000 in total compensation last year

Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt says he will do whatever he can to protect students. (CBC)

Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt says University of Alberta president David Turpin should take a pay cut before charging students more for tuition and residence fees.

"When it comes to getting money in the university's budget, he goes rummaging in the pockets of students and doesn't reach into his own pocket," Schmidt said. "I think most Albertans find that a little bit hard to swallow."

According to the latest salary information posted online, Turpin received $824,000 in total compensation in 2017. That includes base salary, leave, cash and non-cash benefits.

On Friday, the university's board of governors approved increases in three areas. International students will have to pay 3.14 per cent more for tuition, while students who live in residence will pay four per cent more for rent and 15.8 per cent more for their meal plans.

Schmidt is concerned about the jump in tuition paid by international students, which is currently unregulated. He plans to bring in legislation this spring to curb the rate of increase.

The university is making four per cent across-the-board cuts to its budget. Schmidt doesn't think the university has looked hard enough at curbing costs of administration, which he said are higher than those incurred by similarly sized institutions.

"I'm just wondering why they didn't possibly examine other options that would have less of an impact on students," he said.

The government has frozen tuition for students but Schmidt said universities have been funded to make up any shortfalls.

University 'surprised' by remarks

The university's board of governors is fighting back.

In a written statement, Michael Phair, chairman of the university's board of governors, said he was surprised to hear the minister's comments.

"We have made every effort to ensure the minister and ministry have been fully informed and understand the reasons behind the budget cut," he said.

The university depends too much on short-term investment income to fund operating costs, while the structural deficit continues to grow, Phair said.

Residence and meal plan costs, as well as international tuition, can't be funded by government grants and tuition paid by Canadian students, he said.

As for the salary paid to Turpin and the costs of administration, Phair said: "We also recognize their high level of skill and compensate them competitively."

Schmidt said he is looking at what options he has to deal with the situation. 

The chairs of boards at colleges and universities report directly to the minister, so Schmidt said he plans to have a discussion with Phair. 

University and college presidents may soon see cuts to their salaries. 

The Alberta government has reviewed compensation paid to senior executives at the province's colleges and universities as part of its three-part review into salaries paid by agencies, boards and commissions.

Schmidt said the outcome of that review may be released as soon as this spring.