News / Calgary

Calgary medical research could see ripple effect of tough budget

Millions in research funding could be threatened by budget cuts that will hit the faculty of medicine at Calgary's biggest post-secondary institution particularly hard, officials are warning.

The University of Calgary will not replace 50 retiring medical faculty members between now and 2017 and is also looking at scaling back pay for hundreds of academic physicians and bringing in fewer students.

This all comes in response to funding cuts from both the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research and the Academic Alternative Relationship Plans.

Program dean Dr. Jon Meddings warned last week further impacts could come as the university crafts a new vision in response to a 7.3 per cent cut in provincial funding announced in the March operating budget.

The situation is particularly problematic at a time when the province is pushing hard on the post-secondary sector to generate additional revenue through research and other means.

But Dru Marshall, university vice-president and provost, indicated that would be tough to do while addressing the crowd at a budget town hall earlier this month.

"This does provide a loss of research power . . . when we lose more senior people and replace them with younger people," she said of the cuts.

But Alberta Health says it's simply retooled its approach to medical research, focusing more on funding project outcomes rather than long-term salaries for researchers.

"This way, by funding projects, we'll be able to have measurement and an indication of what happened with the research," spokesperson John Muir said. "We'll know a bit better of how public dollars are being invested.

Marshall has said previously the U of C may be forced to revise timelines for targets laid out in its heavily-promoted Eyes High strategy, which aims to turn the school into a top-five research institute in Canada by 2016.

Alberta Health has set aside $118 million over the next seven years to help the University of Calgary and other research-based institutions transition to a funding model focused on projects instead of salaries, spokesperson John Muir said.

Calgary's Mount Royal University, meanwhile, has also indicated cuts to its funding will impact "all aspects" of operations, including academic areas.

SAIT Polytechnic, meanwhile, has continuously turned down requests from Metro since March for comment on its financial situation.

"There are not plans to discuss (the) budget until SAIT's operating budget is finalized and approved by the Board of Governors in late June," spokesperson Melanie Simmons said in an email this week.

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