For those of you who eagerly await the release of the executive blog each month, you will notice that this one is late. My wife and I are expecting our third child any day now and every time that I sit down to start writing this article, her contractions pick up so I need go help her and our two children. On top of getting ready to have a baby any day, I am frantically trying to finish a course with an August contract end date while still working full-time. When I talk to my friends who are currently attending brick and mortar universities, they say that my life sounds crazy and chaotic. Most of the time they are right. But, when you hear other AU students’ stories, my experiences are not unique by any means.
Many AU students are working either full-time or part-time while trying to balance family life and complete their courses. While there are many reasons why students choose to attend AU, one key factor is often flexibility. Personally, I could not work full-time while still attending traditional classes. I need to work to support my family so AU was a great choice for me. If it was not for AU, I would not have been able to go to university because I would not have been able to afford it.
Many students rely on AU because it has allowed them to change their lives, and continued to do so. Since AU plays such a key role in the lives of AU students, it can be very troubling when it is reported that AU is facing financial insolvency. There is a lot of controversy surrounding this topic but, as I have written in the past, it is true that the university is facing financial insolvency (link).
This can be scary for AU students, which is why AUSU executives brought the issue of AU’s financial future up with Minister Schmidt back in April (link). When we expressed our concern, Minister Schmidt said that the university will not close its doors. More recently, he reiterated this message when he spoke at AU’s convocation ceremony in June (link). Again, he said that the university will not cease to exist. We are grateful for the support from the government and the concern that they have for AU students, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be accomplished.
AU’s recent budget is evidence of this. A deficit budget of $3.3 million has been presented for this current fiscal year. This is not an ideal budget by any means, and the Board of Governors all spoke up and expressed their displeasure with the budget. That being said, in order to address the sustainability issues, there needs to be significant changes, and it would not have been possible to implement these changes during this fiscal year. Alternatively, short term measure to balance the budget would have meant additional cuts which would be incredibly detrimental to students and still would not have provided a sustainable solution.
The $3.3 million deficit includes $4.3 million in vacancy savings. This means that when a position becomes vacant at AU, they have not been filling it. This saves money but puts added pressures on the remaining faculty and staff, and those increasing workloads can lead to a lack of support for students. Along with the vacancy savings, there was also $700,000 in cost savings from a reduction of course materials and $25,000 in postage savings due to e-text implementation. These cost saving measures directly impact students when It comes to e-texts. There has been a lot of outcry regarding the implementation of e-texts, and we as student leaders have been pushing this issue. We made sure to bring up the impact that these cuts have on students during the Board of Governors meeting. It’s great that the university can save money, but cost savings should not be made at the expense of students. When we brought up this issue, there were nods of agreement from all board members in the meeting. Ultimately these kinds of cuts will not solve the sustainability issues of the university, but they were made along with other cuts for things like non-essential travel for meetings.
Like I mentioned earlier, this is not an ideal budget, but it is very reflective of the financial situation of the university and hopefully it will help shine light on the fact that there really is a sustainability issue that needs to be addressed quickly. What you might not know is that the budget that is submitted to the government is actually an eighty-plus page document that not only presents the budget, but it also lays out the current challenges, risks, and impact that the budget has. My hope is that with all of the documentation provided with the budget, it will help everyone to see the true impact of the sustainability situation. It is imperative that everyone acknowledges that there is a problem and works together to make the changes that are needed to provide a sustainable future for AU.
There is an independent third party review that is soon to take place and this will hopefully help identify some long-term improvements that can be made, but ultimately if AU is going to be sustainable, it is going to require cooperation from everyone. That means that AU faculty, staff, and government need to work together to make the necessary changes. A sustainable solution is not going to come from one individual group. It is going to require everyone to come together to find a better way to run the business of AU. Everyone needs to keep in mind that the students are the heart of the university and all decisions should ensure that those who rely on this wonderful and unique institution are able to continue to get a quality education. Traditional universities do not work for everyone and the stories that come from AU students and graduates really show how this is true.
This speaks to the value of the university. As I mentioned before, I am one of the students who would not have been able to get a university degree without AU. Going to AU has completely changed my life, which is why this budget presentation can not be the end. It really needs to be the beginning. It needs to be the first step that says “this is where we are financially, now let’s work together to develop a sustainable university to benefit students for years to come”.
AUSU VP External and Student Affairs