Nfld. & Labrador

Work with MUN not done: Gerry Byrne still waiting for spending cuts

Advanced Education minister Gerry Byrne says he wants to see where Memorial University plans to reduce spending before there are any future changes to rates or academic programs.

Advanced education minister wants to see how university will trim $13M

Memorial University's Board of Regents had to move to a different room to vote on the budget, after students disrupted their meeting Thursday. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

The budget at Memorial University may have gotten the green light on Thursday, but Gerry Byrne, the minister of advanced education, skills and labour, says there's still work to do.​

The three year budget includes a future tuition hike for non resident students, new fees and a plan to reduce spending by just over $13.4 million.

"We'll need further clarity on exactly which expenses they're looking at," Byrne told CBC News Friday.

Advanced Education Minister Gerry Byrne says he would like to see the university disclose where it plans to cut spending. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

He said he's asking MUN to disclose those details before it asks for more money from students and taxpayers.

"We feel that there's discretionary expenses that can be applied before looking at academic programs. So I'll be asking the university for clarity on that particular matter," said Byrne. 

Spending at Memorial University as it faced a financial crunch due to less money from the provincial government, sparked a sometimes acrimonious debate that led to some tongue wagging about $700 meals, golf resort retreats, crumbling infrastructure, the plight of international students and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Students lashed out at one of MUN's vice presidents who questioned whether the university should serve peanut butter sandwiches when recruiting staff. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Thursday's approval of the budget has not marked the end of the discussion, apparently, as Byrne said he wants to meet with senior administration and the executive committee of the Board of Regents.

"The university, in a 21st century world, needs to be more transparent. It must provide greater disclosure of its expenditures. That's something we'll be working on," said Byrne.

"As they examine and disclose those expenditures, together, maybe the university might be able to revisit some of those fees and those increases," said Byrne.

New fees

Byrne said he is pleased that the budget holds tuition at current rates for Newfoundland and Labrador students.  

He has questions, though, about two new fees which start in September — a campus renewal fee of $50 per course per semester for undergraduate students and $167 per semester for graduate students, and a new student services fee of $50 per semester.

Students protest two new fees that could add up to an extra $1000 a semester for full time students. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Byrne accepts the fees as common in university settings, but said he hasn't seen details on how they will be collected or spent.

"Will students at the Marine Institute, who pay into the infrastructure fee, will their funds be reserved for the operations of the Marine Institute? Will students at the Grenfell campus, the amount of money they collect, will it be reserved for the operations of Grenfell campus?" 

Student reaction

Meanwhile, at the university campus in St. John's on Friday many students think setting money aside for infrastructure is a good idea and don't have a problem paying for it.

Water leaks through some of the buildings and in the tunnels at memorial University in St. John's. (Submitted)
The tunnel system, it's dirty down there. Looks like a dungeon. If they're going to fix that or any other building I think it's great," said Katelyn Barker, a third-year business student.

Shane Andrews is a math major who doesn't have a problem with the campus renewal fee as long as the money is put to good use.

"The math building is a terrible state. The roofs leaks. All the offices are getting ruined. There's asbestos everywhere. Something has to be done."