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Chair of the Modern Languages and Cultural Studies department, Laura Beard pictured at the Arts and Convocation Hall in University of Alberta, August 19, 2013.

Jason Franson/The Globe and Mail

The drastic budget cuts under way at the University of Alberta will only get worse next school year.

In a missive circulated Friday afternoon, U of A president Indira Samarasekera warned students and staff of plans to slash faculty budgets by 7 per cent and support services by 8 per cent in 2014-15 – a degree of austerity she believes may be unprecedented in the school's 105-year history.

The move is calculated to balance the school's books by 2015, and comes on top of cuts of 1.5 per cent and 3 per cent to the same areas – or $28-million total – already taking effect this fall.

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After Alberta's latest provincial budget cut $43-million in funding to the U of A, the university planned to take three years to regroup and climb out of deficits, but Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk made it clear he wanted it done faster.

Admission to 20 arts programs has already been suspended, and at least 20 science courses will be closed or offered less regularly starting this fall.

"I want to be clear: These are major cuts and every member of our community will feel the impact," Dr. Samarasekera wrote in her budget update.

In Alberta, universities need the province's permission to run a budget deficit.

"We recognize the urgency of the situation," Dr. Samarasekera wrote, "and agree that it is in the best interests of our university and the morale of our community to accelerate our original plan."

The new strategy also calls for further 2-per-cent cuts in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

"We're not quite sure what it means for faculty or academic staff," said Kevin Kane, president of the Association of Academic Staff, University of Alberta.

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"One of the things we can be very confident of is … that the student experience will be greatly diminished."

Morale on campus is clearly a concern. More courses and degree programs will have to be closed, reducing choices for students, but so far there are few details about where the cuts will hit hardest.

The university has offered voluntary buyouts to professors, and will wait until after the Sept. 16 application deadline to decide on specifics. A draft budget for 2014-15 is expected by early October.

"There's a lot of uncertainty and it's frankly scary," said Adam Woods, vice-president external for the University of Alberta Students' Union.

Other Alberta schools such as the University of Calgary have found ways to balance their budgets this year with their own mix of restraint, but the U of A had a structural deficit of $12-million a year even before provincial funding plummeted.

Mr. Lukaszuk plans to appoint independent consultants to help review the U of A's finances.

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"We are facing grave challenges right now, but this university can withstand them," Dr. Samarasekera said.

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