03/05/2013 05:31 EST | Updated 05/05/2013 05:12 EDT

NDP says Saskatchewan universities struggling; government funding to blame

REGINA - The Opposition NDP says universities in Saskatchewan are in a "financial mess" and is pointing the blame at the government.

But the province is brushing aside suggestions that it's underfunding the schools.

New Democrat Cam Broten says there have been layoffs and program cuts and there are looming tuition increases at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and the University of Regina.

"Every discussion I've had with people on campus, whether it's student, staff or faculty, it's quite bleak," Broten said Tuesday after raising the issue in the legislature.

"People are really concerned. The mood is not an optimistic one right now and that's counter-intuitive when we think of the things that are going on in Saskatchewan right now."

For example, Broten says the government hasn't properly funded the new health sciences building at the University of Saskatchewan and forced $100 million of debt onto the school.

Advanced Education Minister Don Morgan says both schools are going through internal reviews, but he insists the province has not cut funding.

"I think they're going through the process that they're going through to try and look at what their expenses are, what their expenses should be," said Morgan.

"We have always given them sufficient funding to try and look after the programs that they have and the financial and capital commitments that they have. And we're supportive of them going through a review process."

The University of Regina got $95.6 million from the province in 2011-2012, the latest year for which actual expenditures are available. It was budgeted to get $100,861,000 in 2012-2013.

The University of Saskatchewan received $292,366,467 in 2011-2012 and was budgeted to get $304,516,000 in 2012-2013.

The University of Saskatchewan is projecting a deficit of $44.5 million by 2016 if no action is taken to save money.

It has two main budget savings initiatives: a review of all programs and services and a review of the workforce. The school has said 50 jobs, mostly in administration, have been cut since November and "further adjustments" will be announced in April.

The University of Regina has been asked to cut its budget by three per cent this year.

The U of R had said it would need an increase of $4.8 million or 4.98 per cent from the province in 2013-2014 to cover ongoing operations. It said an operating grant increase of less than two per cent and lower tuition rate increases would mean a cut of $5 million or more.