Senate gives university budget nod

Western will be spending $732.4 million in 2016-17 on infrastructure and utilities, scholarships and research initiatives, and creating a pedestrian-friendly and safe campus, among other initiatives.

At the April 8 meeting, Western Senate voted in favour of advising the Board of Governors to approve the 2016-17 University Operating and Capital Budgets. This is the second year of a four-year budget planning period (2015-16 to 2018-19) as part of the Achieving Excellence on the World Stage strategic plan. The cost of these expenditures exceeds the revenue projections of $728.5 million, resulting in Western having an in-year deficit of $3.9 million. This will leave Western’s operating reserve at $44.1 million at the end of 2016-17.

Western’s Board of Governors will vote on the budget at its next meeting April 21.

“This is the story of continuing to attract highly qualified students to Western,” said Janice Deakin, Provost and Vice-President (Academic), who presented the budget to Senate, adding the in-year deficit is related to the numerous one-time expenditures.

“Enrolment is a big driver of our budget and meeting our enrolment targets is important,” she said, noting this will be the last year of the current provincial tuition framework which limits tuition increases to 3 per cent for direct-entry programs and 5 per cent for professional programs.

Overall, faculties will receive $31.1 million in 2016-17. Moving forward, the university is going to review the Initial Budget Adjustment (IBA) terminology, based on the recommendations of the Report of the Provost’s Task Force on University Budget Models. Currently, IBA reduces base budgets by 3 per cent, which is used to help funding inflationary costs, primarily salary increases. However, in recent years, the IBA has not covered the full cost of these annual increases. In 2015-16, the IBA totaled $8.9 million and the annual salary increase allocations were $13.1 million.

In particular, the university is feeling the squeeze from declining enrolment numbers in faculties such as Arts & Humanities and Music, which don’t balance the cost for teaching in these areas, said Deakin.

Western continues to stay the course on undergraduate enrolment, targeting 5,100 first-year students. While other Ontario universities outside of the Greater Toronto Area have faced challenges in meeting their enrolment targets, “thankfully we don’t have that problem at Western and we continue to have high demand,” Deakin noted.

The university is also aiming to recruit 550 international students into the first-year class. The goal for graduate student enrolment is to increase to at least 20 per cent of the total student body.

This is a period of uncertainty related to provincial funding, said Deakin, noting the Ontario government is currently reviewing the University Funding Formula, and indicators show the enrolment growth funding is likely coming to an end. With limited provincial funds and expected tuition framework changes on the horizon, Western continues to experience a period of constrained growth in revenues.

When it comes to infrastructure, Western plans to invest $15 million in one-time funds for the construction of the Integrated Learning and Innovation Centre, which will create additional student-centred teaching, learning and innovation spaces. The university is allocating funds to support the Engineering Expansion Plan, including $5.5 million to support the construction of a new building. Western is also setting aside $6.6 million in one-time funds for facility enhancements and equipment and infrastructure renewals in the faculties.

When it comes to much-needed infrastructure updates, “there is stuff all over campus that we are trying to get ahead of,” Deakin said.

In order to help contain utilities costs into the future, the university is investing $1.5 million for campuswide energy conservation initiatives.

Continuing to support student scholarships remains a budget priority. The university is providing $5.2 million in one-time funds in support of scholarship and research initiatives in the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) disciplines. Western is also investing $1 million in one-time funds to better co-ordinate and expand the Student Entrepreneurship Ecosystem to provide students, regardless of program, an opportunity to explore and acquire leadership and entrepreneurship skills.

With the Alice Munro Chair in Creativity in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities approaching its target, the university is setting aside $500,000 to complete this $3-million endowment. Western has also set aside one-time funding in support of advertising initiatives related to the fundraising campaign.

In support of the library acquisitions budget, which has been negatively impacted by the declining value of the Canadian dollar, the budget includes a base budget increase to $500,000 for each of the next three years, as well as an additional $1.1 million in one-time funding.

As well, $2 million will be used to help transform the campus into a pedestrian-friendly and safe campus, as outlined in the multi-year Campus Master Plan, which was approved in June 2015. This includes safety-related signage, traffic calming and vehicle speed reduction initiatives.

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Students will receive updates on their academic performance accounting for at least 15 per cent of their final grade no less than one week prior to the withdrawal deadline without academic penalty.

Senate approved the change to the policy on Evaluation of Undergraduate Academic Performance at its April 8 meeting.

The issue sparked discussion at the March meeting when students and faculty members raised questions about the policy requirements. In the past, the policy indicated students would receive an estimate of their standing in the course at approximately halfway through the course. Concerns had been raised about the ambiguity of that wording, particularly what “estimate” means and the practice of providing appropriate feedback.

Under the revised policy, instructors must obtain an exemption from their Dean for 3000- or 4000-level courses in which such a graded assessment is impractical. In other rare instances, instructors can receive similar exemptions, and this must be indicated in the course syllabus. These would be reviewed on a course-by-course basis at each time the exempted course is offered.

Also, the policy states the last day of scheduled classes in any course is the last day course assignments will be accepted for credit.

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Western students overwhelmingly agree Fall Study Days were effective in reducing stress and anxiety related to coursework, according to a recent survey.

John Doerksen, Vice-Provost (Academic Programs), oversaw a survey of undergraduate students to evaluate the effectiveness and timing of the Fall Study Days, which were introduced in the 2013-14 academic year. University Registrar Glen Tigert presented the results of the survey to Senate.

There were 825 undergraduate students who responded to the survey. When asked how much time during the Fall Study Days was spent on coursework, the majority said they spend some to a lot of time studying. The majority of respondents (64 per cent) also indicated the break helped relieve stress and anxiety related to coursework.

When asked about the timing of the Fall Study Days, the survey indicated that although they like the current break falling on the last Thursday and Friday of October, they would prefer if it was moved to the Thanksgiving weekend (63 per cent). Since the current Fall Study Days occur close to or during Halloween, 66 per cent felt the timing interfered with their ability to use the study time effectively. Also, 91 per cent of the students preferred a longer Fall Study Break, even if this meant fewer class days to cover the same material.

Questions about the timing of the study break drew murmurs and laughter from the crowd, however Emily Addison, Chair of the Western Student Senators for 2015-16, challenged senators to take the matter seriously. “I think the Fall Study Break is incredibly important to students, particularly undergraduate students. That is a time of year is very stressful for a lot of students,” Addison said. “I think students deserve a break.”

The impetus for the survey is not to get rid of the Fall Study Break, reiterated Janice Deakin, Western’s Provost & Vice-President (Academic). Rather, the goal is to better understand the needs of students and balance this with what is in the best interest of Western’s programs.

Many of Western’s sister institutions have longer breaks, she noted.

“I am an advocate of the Fall Study Break,” said Deakin. “The idea of Fall Study Break is to decompress and get work done.”

Doerksen will convene a task force to evaluate the survey results and determine the next steps.