Budget rollout meets with Senate approval

In the wake of a provincial budget that, among widespread cuts, spared post-secondary education, and a federal budget that promises significant investment in research and development at Canadian universities, Western is modestly moving on to year two of its current four-year budget cycle.

Western can expect future hits to funding and, as a result, hits to the university’s operating budget, said Western President Amit Chakma at a university Senate meeting last week. That becomes especially clear with the province extending its current tuition framework for one year only while facing significant debt and anticipating post-secondary cuts in yet-to-be-defined ‘policy levers’ that will amount to $40 million in 2013-14 and $81 million in 2014-15.

Even so, both government budget announcements – the federal, in particular – signal a “significant victory for the (post-secondary) sector,” but the university still has to tread carefully into the next fiscal year, Chakma continued.

Western’s total operating revenue for 2012-13 is projected to be $630.2 million, a 3.6 per cent increase over 2011-12, said Janice Deakin, provost and vice-president (academic), who tabled the budget April 13. Roughly 45 per cent is expected from government grants, with slightly more than 40 per cent from tuition and roughly 13 per cent coming from private funding avenues.

Total expenditures are expected to amount to $636.4 million, an increase of 6.6 per cent over the past year, Deakin added. This number puts Western in a $6.2 million deficit, given a $30 million, one-time investment in one of the budget’s top priorities – enhancing the university’s research and scholarship profile on the global stage.

In what is, perhaps, a sign of tough economic times, operating revenues at Western have started to stagnate with a projected growth of 3.4 per cent for 2012-13, Deakin said. That number had steadily increased since the early 2000s at a rate of 8 per cent per year.

She explained modest enrollment growth is key to additional revenue; Western plans to expand the number of international undergraduate students as well as its first-year intake by 1,500, composed of roughly half graduate and half undergraduate students.

And while the university is looking to bolster its financial situation by bringing in more students, Western is maintaining student financial aid as one of its top priorities, Deakin continued.

More than $82 million will account for total administered student financial aid for 2012-13, with all categories increasing. This year, $6.4 million will go to undergraduate scholarships while tuition set-aside for need-based support is also going up to $13.1 million. An additional $3.4 million is going to faculties responsible for graduate student support that will total $52.7 million.

Western is also reinstating the Doctoral Supervision Grant for the next three years, funding $2,000 for each new domestic doctoral student.

The university will also invest and focus on enhancing its research and scholarship profiles through initiatives that will work to attract internationally recognized scholars and build on visits, conferences and exchange opportunities. It’s here Western needs to park $30 million as a one-time investment that will be in reserve for seven years and eventually pay off, Deakin explained.

Western’s operating reserve is projected to be at $44.1 million at the end of this year and $4.6 million at the end of four years, Deakin said, just above the board-mandated minimum of $2.5 million.

As for the capital budget, allocated funds will be supporting Western’s long-term space plans and renovations.

Total spending will amount to $146 million, with $93.5 million going to construction projects such as the new undergraduate residence, Richard Ivey School of Business and medical education buildings. An additional $18.4 million will go to major renovations on campus, including Talbot College, Thames Hall and the last phase of the Physics and Astronomy building. About $34.2 million will be allocated for other expenditures such as utilities, maintenance, modernization and infrastructure.

Senate recommended the budget for approval by the Board of Governors.