New Brunswick government gives two-year funding agreement to universities, but questions remain. [Rick Harris / Wikimedia]
The New Brunswick government has announced a two per cent funding increase for each of the next two years for universities, the first time the province has provided multi-year funding.
It is also the first time the province has signalled a funding commitment ahead of its annual budget, allowing university administrators to better plan during their own budget deliberations.
Jean Sauvageau, president of the Federation of New Brunswick Faculty Associations, said a two-year agreement is by definition the “shortest multi-year agreement possible,” and can’t approach the stability a longer agreement would deliver.
Four-year agreements promised by Premier David Alward during his campaign three year ago have never materialized.
Nonetheless, Sauvageau acknowledged the two-year deal announced in a government press release Oct. 30 is an improvement over year-by-year grants, and “the timing is welcome.”
He said funding announcements “used to come very, very late, every year. The new timing will allow universities to plan budgets over the winter. We are hoping this is a good experience.”
The government’s funding plan also included a three per cent cap on tuition fee increases for the next three years for all public universities in the province.
The October announcement follows on the heels of a separate funding and tuition agreement with St. Thomas University, in reaction to STU’s “unique needs,” that establishes a new five-year tuition fee schedule, which will see a tuition fee increase rolled back and students refunded almost $200.
One troubling detail in the announcement: universities “will be required to collaborate on continuous improvement and also report to government on how the new funding is used … to ensure (they) are accountable for their operating grant increases.”
Sauvageau said it’s unclear exactly what that means, but that onerous accounting requirements would be a high price to pay for the security of established two-year operating grants.
“We are left with a lot of questions,” he said. “Any time there is a hint of infringing on independent decision-making, it is quite possibly an erosion of autonomy and academic freedom.”