Budget envisions growth, maintains flexibility

In a budget that will enable Western to thrive long-term, the university plans to strengthen research and scholarship, upgrade facilities and support more students in the coming year.

The $841-million 2020-21 budget – the second in a two-year budget planning cycle – includes one-time spending for strategic priorities and new student supports in light of COVID-19.

Western’s Board of Governors approved the budget at its regular meeting on April 23.

“It is a responsible budget – both a budget for the next year and one that also addresses university priorities for the long term,” said Andrew Hrymak, Provost and Vice-President (Academic). “At the same time, it also gives us choices in the coming months over how to use carryforward funds, if we need it, in the short-term to address issues that may arise from COVID-19. We’ve given ourselves enough flexibility in the budget that we can address both.”

Maintaining a healthy and responsible budget has been, and continues to be, a massive team effort, Western President Alan Shepard said.

“Events of the past few months have challenged us all in lots of ways; planning a budget for the coming year has also been demanding,” Shepard said. “I’d characterize this as a thoughtful, forward-thinking budget that also reflects current realities and uncertainties.”

Among the priorities and new initiatives for this year are $122 million in one-time allocations that include:

  • A $13.5-million student support fund to take the form of scholarships, bursaries, work-study, summer research opportunities and residence accommodation subsidies with some funds available as early as this summer;
  • Expanding interdisciplinary initiatives and activities that transcend academic disciplines and create new areas of scholarships, and restructuring the process so it becomes more helpful to champions of interdisciplinary work;
  • Seed funding for the Western Academy for Advanced Research, set to launch in 2021, which will bring together research and scholarship with leaders from outside the university to help solve pressing issues;
  • Continuing the Western Research Chairs program in order to highlight and promote exceptional research. Last year, Western set aside $12 million for endowment for Western Research Chairs. This budget has an additional $10 million as expendable funds to support world-class research faculty;
  • Adding an Office of Indigenous Initiatives with additional base funding and permanent staffing in community relations, admissions, enrolment planning, curriculum and pedagogy advising and elders-in-residence and in support of the principles of reconciliation;
  • Supporting the university-wide data strategy initiative, announced last fall, as a path to equip students, faculty and staff with greater data acumen, and to support data-funded research.

Hrymak noted that the university continues to prioritize projects from past budget years, including:

  • Support for further development of Western Entrepreneurship as a cross-campus ecosystem;
  • An efficiency and innovation fund aimed at generating revenue and reducing structural costs;
  • Strategic expansion of Engineering in enrolment, faculty/staff complements and facility expansion and renewal;
  • An Innovation and Collaboration Hub for Advanced X-Ray Imaging and Intervention in the Robarts Research Institute (expected to be completed this fall);
  • Growth of Endowed Matching Chairs program; and,
  • Key capital projects that will be underway as physical distancing measures allow.

The budget assumes that provincial grant funding and federal research support funding will remain unchanged. Provincial and federal governments are expected to table their budgets later this spring.

As mandated by the province, domestic tuition will remain frozen at 2019-20 levels, after having been rolled back 10 per cent at the start of the school year. A year ago, Western forecast that the impact of the government’s tuition framework would result in a shortfall to the university of $43 million across the two-year planning cycle.

International student tuition will increase by 8 per cent for first-year students and by 4 per cent for upper-year students in most undergraduate programs.

Western’s international tuition rates are in line with those at similar Ontario universities.

“Western is in a good position,” Hrymak said. “We’re confident this budget sets the stage for growth in key areas, in particular, investing in students, interdisciplinary work, research and scholarship. There are still some unknowns that we will face and continue to address in the coming months, but I remain optimistic we will weather this storm and come out stronger than ever before.”