Mahon pushes for bold approach to future

President Mike Mahon speaks to the Alberta budget and the formation of a discussion paper that will address the University's approach heading into a new strategic plan

The Government of Alberta released the 2012 Provincial Budget late last week, and while we are still learning more details about the budget and how it will affect the University of Lethbridge, we are encouraged by the government's introduction of predictable, three-year funding for the post-secondary sector.

The modest operating grant increases of 2 per cent per year for the next three years is also welcome, especially in light of the 0 per cent we have received for the last two years. While we are grateful for the increase, it is important to note that this will not fully offset the cost of increases we will face this year and beyond, including a rise in cost of living, utility prices and other associated items.

Mike Mahon
President Mike Mahon advocates a nimble and bold approach to the University's future.

There will be no new capital projects funded for 2012 but the University will continue to benefit from previously approved projects. These include the construction of the new residence building, significant renovations to existing structures and upgrades to the overall campus environment. In addition, the planning funding we received last year for a proposed 300,000 square foot academic complex is secure and that planning process will continue.

Further announcements about a new CAIP Chair program are also expected. This will provide the University an opportunity to compete for funding in areas that are still to be determined.

The budget speech also referenced enhancements to student financial assistance programs. We welcome any effort made to change and ease the process by which students can qualify for financial assistance. We are keenly aware of the challenges students face, and are constantly working to enhance our own scholarship and bursary funding programs. To see the government make a commitment to contribute to this process is commendable.

Again, much more will become clear in the coming weeks. Financial Planning is working hard to determine the impact of the budget on the University, and we look forward to having further discussions with the Minister and the Department of Advanced Education and Technology.

Over the past 18 months I have spent a lot of time talking with and listening to many people in our University community. As we process the announcements from the provincial government in relation to the budget, look ahead to our own budget planning process and begin work on the next iteration of our Strategic Plan, I believe it is important to look at where we have advanced in the framework of our current plan and consider the aspirations of the University as we move forward.

I am beginning to work on drafting a discussion paper that will speak to some of the intentional directives that can help drive the University forward within the context of our strategic directions. This paper will serve as a catalyst for future conversations on our next Strategic Plan. While our current Strategic Plan speaks to broad aspirations and potential strategies, it is time to build upon these strategies with concrete initiatives that support our goals.

Already, these conversations have yielded intentional strategies such as the Recruitment, Retention and Integrated Planning team and enhanced support for our First Nations, Métis and Inuit students.

There is much more to talk about as we seek to move forward as a destination, comprehensive university, such as what it means to be a liberal education-based institution focused on increasing graduate education and research, our University structure and how it can be maximized to aid in our progression and the opportunity to develop an international strategy. These and other questions will be on the table and open for discussion as we look ahead.

If we are going to be successful in moving forward, we need to be nimble and we need to be bold in our thinking and planning. As I begin to craft this discussion paper, I look forward to hearing from those who have thoughts about the future of the University of Lethbridge. This paper will commence a conversation that will carry on throughout our strategic planning process, offering many opportunities for input.