Senate discussion may have centred on the 2014-15 budget last week, however, all eyes were on the challenges of the following four years.
“I am not preaching doom and gloom here,” said Janice Deakin, provost and vice-president (academic), who presented the budget to Senate Friday. “We have some tools, but we’re going to have to take responsibility and fix these things knowing, with our eyes wide open, that the next four years aren’t going to be like the last four years.”
After a lengthy discussion, Senate voted to recommend the budget to the Board of Governors, who will take up the issue at its April 21 meeting.
Marking the final year of the current four-year budget cycle, the 2014-15 budget shows an increase in operating revenue of 3.1 per cent to $679.2 million and an expenditure increase of 3.9 per cent to $689.2 million, for an in-year deficit of $10 million. That in-year deficit is attributed to $38 million in one-time allocations for priority items. Despite that, Western still projects an operating reserve of $32 million.
“We’re doing lots of things right here,” Deakin said of the overall numbers. “But there is a fiscal reality we need to get our minds around. I think the four-year planning cycle gives us an opportunity to say things are different in the next cycle than in the past.
“We have to get our arms around the realities of the long term and do some work.”
The administration’s chief concerns centre on the provincial government. Ontario’s deficit and debt continues at high levels toward an unknown end, while a looming election adds further uncertainty to the equation.
In addition, government grant funding has been reduced in numerous ways – international student recoveries, changes to bachelor of education programs, student aid, various policy levers. When combined with other tuition-related proposals, the total base reduction to the budget nears $15 million.
As an example, Deakin cited the bachelor of education student funding was cut by 25 per cent without consultation. There is fear of what might happen next.
“That’s the reality – no complaints. That’s the world we live in,” Deakin said.
Adding to the pressure, and perhaps fueling some of the Senate debate, was the university’s policy surrounding its four-year budget cycle.
In the final year of every cycle, all faculties and support units must model for what steps they would need to take to get their faculty/unit within 2 per cent of a balanced budget by cycle’s end. That exercise looks to uncover any structural deficits, which are deficits that persist over a longer period of time, that could pose issues in the next cycle.
Faculties and support units are not required to implement the measures, Deakin stressed. In many cases, one-time, carry-forward money can help cover expenses in year four, buying time to get rid of that structural deficit before the next cycle begins.
Senator Amanda Grzyb, a Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS) professor, raised concerns about potential cuts as a result of this process. University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) president Alison Hearn, also a FIMS professor, echoed the sentiments.
“I appreciate the need for fiscal discipline. All of us need to do that in our own lives,” Hearn said. “But there is a difference between discipline and austerity.”
Making it difficult for some faculties to balance is “getting cut off cold turkey,” as Hearn described it, from the money associated with the recent growth in the student population.
That growth helped “fuel lots of what we do,” Deakin said. But that will change going forward.
“We do not have the physical capacity to grow at those numbers again,” she continued. “Yet, we’re all kind-of hooked on the incremental revenue that’s come along with those students. Part of this, in this cycle is a reality check, that over the next four-year cycle, in the absence of continued incremental students, we are going to have to constrain how we spend our dollars.”
While faculties have been addressing the issue in a number of ways, Hearn warned of drastic cuts for some faculties if not tempered.
“I would ask that we could taper off,” Hearn said. “What has been asked of some of these faculties – faculties who have shown they can deliver quality for not a lot of money – should be given a little bit more consideration in the next couple of years, so we don’t have to see the kind of overnight shocks that are now moving some of the faculties on campus.”
Deakin disagreed with the contention.
“What’s important,” she said, “is we take hold of this and we don’t throw money we know we aren’t going to have in the future – base money – until we understand what it is for and how we are going to adapt.
“I don’t think, this year, that faculties have to make choices that are going to do the kind of things you maybe suggested.”
The university administration does not anticipate any layoffs as a result of this budget.
The 2014-15 budget is based off an entering first-year enrolment of 4,925 students, a number that includes 575 international students. International students represent 11.5 per cent of the incoming undergraduate class – surpassing the university’s original 10 per cent goal.
Incoming domestic students face tuition hikes of 1.5 per cent for PhD and Category 1 masters students, 3 per cent for first-entry undergraduates and 5 per cent for Engineering, Law, Medical/Dentistry and Category 2 students.
The last four university budgets highlighted the fact Western’s international student tuition rates were well below those of its peer institutions, and again this year, Western looks to narrow that gap with other schools. In 2013-14, Western’s international undergraduate arts tuition was the lowest in Ontario at $19,562. That number was below the provincial average of $23,444, and well behind the University of Toronto that topped the list at $32,075.
The current total number of international students at the undergraduate level, main campus, is 1,556. When considering graduate and affiliate students, that number climbs to more than 2,800.
Incoming international students face tuition hikes of 4 per cent for PhD and Category 1 masters students, 5 per cent for HBA students, 6 per cent for Category 2 masters students and 8 per cent for first-entry undergrads, excluding Management and Organizational Students student who will see a 12 per cent increase.
Deakin highlighted a handful of strategic initiatives targeted for $52 million in one-time investments. Included on that list were: $12 million for the endowed chairs matching program; $10 million for IT projects, including a new email system; $8 million for student collaborative and study space across campus, not simply limited to libraries; $3 million for Canadian Foundation for Innovation matching funds; $2 million for eLearning; $2 million to begin the University College modernization process; and $1 million for student innovation and entrepreneurship.
Deakin also highlighted a $103 million capital budget. Included on the list was a new building for Nursing and the Faculty of Information and Media Studies; Delaware Hall renovations; University College renovations; as well as a secondary IT Data Centre at the Advanced Manufacturing Park.