New Brunswick

UNB town hall tackles budget headache

UNB’s president and vice-president of finance faced some tough questions from their own staff and students at a town hall event Monday.

Staff, students question spending on university marketing over academic programs

More than 100 people attended the town hall event at UNB Fredericton's Wu Centre. Staff and students at the Saint John campus took part via video link. (CBC)

UNB's president and vice-president of finance faced some tough questions from staff and students at a town hall event Monday.

The focus was on money, and how the university is dealing with budget deficits.

The structural deficit for UNB for the financial year 2016-17 is projected to be $6.9 million.

A structural deficit refers to the fundamental imbalance between income and expenditures, regardless of the effects of an economic cycle.

'Broken record'

The university's overall budget for 2016-17 is $192.8 million.

"This is a broken record at UNB. Our expense-growth outpaces our revenue-growth," said Karen Cunningham, UNB's vice-president of administration and finance.

Cunningham and UNB president Eddy Campbell highlighted the issues that have led to the recent budget shortfalls.

For the second year running the province's operating grant to the university has been frozen.

Campbell also referred to the ongoing decline in enrolment figures — something which is forecast to continue.
UNB VP of Finance Karen Cunningham and UNB President Eddy Campbell. (CBC)

To tackle the budget shortfall, the university has cut positions, frozen non-salary spending and has controversially increased tuition rates.

'Very disappointing'

In 2016-17, New Brunswick students will see a two per cent increase, out-of-province students will pay five per cent more, and the differential fee for international students will jump 10 per cent.

One of the students who raised concerns with the rise in international tuition is Herbert Bempah from Ghana. Bempah is also a UNB Student Union executive member.

"It's very disappointing to see that the university doesn't really value the input of international students," said Bempah.

"Think about the other hundreds of international students who don't necessarily have job opportunities [like me] and scholarship opportunities, and are fully funded by their parents. They may have to drop out. It's not doing well for the university or for the international students themselves."
UNB Student Union VP of Internal Affaors Herbert Bempah is an international student from Ghana. (CBC)


Cunningham told Bempah that the increase in international tuition was a "necessity" but not something the university wanted to do.

According to the university, domestic tuition for arts and humanities students at UNB is lower than most Maritime universities.

UNB also says its international tuition remains lower than at least four Maritime universities.

"Even with the increases in our international tuition fees, we're still amongst the lowest across the country," said Campbell.


This year, the university is also investing $4 million in its "Why UNB" marketing campaign, designed to attract out-of-province students.

Many faculty members and students at the meeting thought the investment was at the expense of some academic programs.

Geomatics graduate student Lia Nikolaidou asked Campbell whether he thought graduate students are better attracted by marketing or the by academic reputation of university programs.

'More holes than Swiss cheese'

The chair of the Department of Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering, Prof. Marcelo Santos said there has been a long-term trend of declining investment in academia, but that it began long before the current administration.
UNB president Eddy Campbell argues that the university's domestic and international tuition rates remain competitive. (CBC/University of New Brunswick)

"Our program has more holes than Swiss cheese," said Santos.

"There are three fields of specialization that were obliterated. There were several retirements and the department's shrunk to half, and there were important positions that were not filled even though there was an explicit promise by [a previous] university administration."

University dilemma

UNB president Eddy Campbell acknowledged the dilemma between spending money on attracting new students, and spending money on academic programs.

"That debate is part of what we do and the way we deal with each other and you saw here today elements of that debate," said Campbell.

"Well, essentially the idea behind the recruiting and marketing campaign is to increase our enrolments, so as to generate more resources to be able to address the academic plans that we now have in place at the university."

More than 100 people attended the town hall event.

Most were at the Fredericton campus, with others taking part, via video link, from the Saint John campus.


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