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Weingarten said maintenance was a priority over new buildings.
Paul Baker/the Gauntlet

Provincial budget gives U of C some breathing room

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The 2009 provincial budget released last week had some good news for post-secondary institutions across Alberta.

The University of Calgary will receive a six per cent funding increase from the province as part of their regular revenue. The six per cent is the last installment of a three-year promise to the university for more funds.

"It's what we anticipated, but I must say that we're awfully glad that it's coming," said U of C president Dr. Harvey Weingarten. "What the government, I think, indicated clearly was that they will live up to the commitment for 09-10 but they make no commitment for 2010 and beyond. In fact, the best prediction is that we won't see any increase."

The province added $88 million to the operating support budget, bringing the new total to $2.65 billion. They're also promising a substantial amount for capital maintenance and renewal.

"Maintenance of the physical plant requires some funds for roofs, for new windows, fixing toilets, all that kind of stuff," said Weingarten, adding that the university runs over 30 buildings. "This is distinct from the big capital projects which are really new projects like the library and the [Energy Environment Experiential Learning] building."

Weingarten added that none of the funds could go towards residence buildings. The university borrowed almost $45 million from the province last month for residence facility renewal and the Dr. Fok Ying Tung International House.

The Students' Union was slightly concerned that the vague wording of the budget would allow for spending money on new buildings instead of much needed maintenance, but Weingarten assured that necessary renovations would come first.

"Because the budget had few details, the SU could provide the government with recommendations," said SU president Dalmy Baez.

She added that the federal budget announced it would match any provincial spending on deferred maintenance on post-secondary institutions and the province is already writing up proposals.

The university has been going through a rough patch with their endowment fund, losing up to 20 per cent of their market value, said Weingarten.

The university will take less out of the fund as a result, but investments have picked up in the last month or two.

The university is also receiving enrolment program envelopes which fund the expansion and creation of new academic programs on campus.

Baez said that the province will continue tying maximum tuition increase to inflation, which is good news considering inflation has slowed down in the last year.

"A new study showed that 70 per cent of new jobs will require some sort of post-secondary education," said Baez. "Now is definitely the time to invest."

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