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Tough choices at Brandon University

Funding budget increases challenges

BRANDON -- Brandon University will have to make "some real difficult choices," according to its president, following unanimous approval of its 2014-15 operating budget.

The university's nearly $48-million 2014-15 operating budget includes operational cost increases totalling $4.8 million. Although the province has increased operating grants to universities by 2.5 per cent, grant and tuition revenue increases will only cover about 26 per cent of the $4.8 million.

In the past, the university has relied on surplus funds to cover extra costs, a method Deborah Poff said isn't sustainable.

"We can't continue this way," Poff said following approval of the budget during Saturday's board of governors meeting. "You can't continue to run in excess of what's required to balance your budget, so we've been doing it using lesser amounts of our surplus but still depending on surplus to balance your budget is a challenge."

However, budget cuts in operating units across the campus and surplus, funds will have to cover nearly 74 per cent of the budget cost increases for 2014-15.

Since 90 per cent of the annual budget is allocated for salaries and benefits, including additional payments to BU's retirement plan, about 22.5 per cent of budgeted cost increases will be addressed through savings in positions, including sessional staff and retirements.

In hopes of boosting student numbers and tuition revenue, the university has also invested money in additional recruitment officers.

Poff said she credits these additions for helping boost fall enrolment applications, which are up 23 per cent over last year.

Last month, Poff said BU had received 1,241 applications from students applying for fall semester. Around this time last year, the university had received 1,006 applications from new students.

Poff added the university could easily support 4,000 students without any impact on its budget.

"We have a footprint where we could accept more students," Poff said, adding there are currently about 3,000 students attending BU.

Gervan Fearon, BU's vice-president and academic provost, said the university is focused on "strengthening programs" as well as renewal and retention.

Despite operating cost increases, the university is also working on growing its academic programming and initiatives. BU recently added a master's of environmental science and life sciences as well as a master's of psychiatric nursing to the list of courses it now offers.

Another challenge facing the university is a large number of students are opting not to declare a major or minor. While this has no financial implications for the university, Poff said it could prevent students from getting the extra help and guidance they may need.

"Students tend to take all the courses they need to take but don't think about declaring their major until often a third or fourth year," Poff said. "The problem isn't a financial one; the problem is that some students really benefit from guidance, from advisement, and if they're not declaring their major, we want to ensure we're serving our students the best we can."

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