07/03/2012 01:29 EDT | Updated 09/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Nova Scotia art university cuts $1.2 million from its operating deficit

HALIFAX - Staff cuts, class reductions and increased tuition and student fees are among budgetary measures aimed at getting Nova Scotia's troubled fine arts university back on a more solid financial footing.

NSCAD University, formerly the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, said Tuesday it had approved a budget last week that cuts its operating deficit by $1.2 million — half of a projected deficit of $2.4 million for fiscal 2012-13.

Acting president Daniel O'Brien said the school would find the savings through a series of measures, including the reduction of six staff positions through attrition, cutting energy costs and eliminating up to 55 under-enrolled classes.

O'Brien said the university would also hold the line on costs while increasing tuition by three per cent and introducing student fees to boost revenues.

"Students at NSCAD had an incredible string of years of avoiding fees that other schools imposed on students," said O'Brien. "We felt we could justify it on that basis."

The new student charges include a $45 facility fee per semester, a $50 technology renewal fee per semester, and a one-time graduation fee of $50.

O'Brien said the tuition increase would cost students an extra $160, while the fees would add about $190 more to their bill.

He said the budgetary measures were based on a sustainability report submitted to the province on March 30.

A report released last December called on the university to review its programs and curriculum and to also look at how it used space at its three campuses.

It said that without the changes the viability of the school as an independent entity would be in doubt after years of fiscal mismanagement.

Calls to the university's faculty union were not returned.

Kevin Finch, a spokesman for the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, said the province believed NSCAD's budget was a "step in the right direction."

"We expect NSCAD to continue implementing parts of its sustainability plan that are under its control and to continue affiliation discussions with other institutions."

O'Brien said while some of the measures wouldn't be popular, he was confident the steps taken in the budget would help the university find its way back to financial health.

"Most are committed to the sustainability plan and understand that the university has a requirement and a public expectation that it manages within its means," he said.

O'Brien said a second phase of changes that could be introduced within the next four months could see the university balance its budget in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

He said a large part of the plan would see the province fund an early retirement incentive program to reduce up to 16 faculty, technical and support staff positions.