Students turn out to discuss Dal budget, tuition and fees

- March 4, 2016

March 28 update: The Budget Advisory Committee's final report is now available, which modifies the recommended tuition adjustments. Read more in this Dal News story.

Students gathered in the Student Union Building’s McInnes Room Wednesday afternoon to learn more about the university operating budget, bringing along their questions, comments and feedback.

The event was the fourth and final student information and consultation session regarding the Budget Advisory Committee’s (BAC) draft operating budget plan for 2016-17, which was shared with the Dal community in early February. Following the consultations, the BAC will begin drafting its final report.

Given that increases in fixed costs for next year (3.8%) exceed the increase in provincial government funding (1%), the BAC’s draft plan for balancing the university operating budget recommends a 2.5% cut to faculty/unit budgets, the use of $1.5 million in reserves, a 3% general tuition increase and additional tuition adjustments (as allowed by the province) for undergrad courses in Engineering, Pharmacy and on the Agricultural Campus.

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“This is an opportunity to engage in the conversation, to put ideas on the table,” said Carolyn Watters, provost and vice-president academic and chair of the Budget Advisory Committee, who led each of the four sessions with a presentation on the budget before engaging in questions and comments with students.

Considering tuition adjustments

Wednesday’s session in the Student Union Building (SUB) followed similar consultations over the past few weeks, with a total of more than 200 students attending across the four sessions. Ssessions on Dal’s Sexton, Carleton and Agricultural campuses highlighted in detail proposed additional tuition adjustments in Engineering, Pharmacy and Agriculture.

Tuition adjustments were authorized on a one-time basis by the Province of Nova Scotia in its 2015-16 budget, although the increases can be phased in over three years. The draft budget plan would implement an adjustment of 5% for individual undergraduate courses delivered by Engineering and Pharmacy, and an adjustment of 6.3% for all undergraduate courses on the Agricultural Campus, in each of the next three years. This would be in addition to any general tuition increases over that timeframe, such as the 3% proposed for 2016/17.

The increases would only apply to courses in those programs; students in Engineering and Pharmacy, for example, who take several classes in other Faculties/departments would not see a similar additional increase for those other courses. For a student entering these programs this fall, the adjustment would increase average tuition over the duration of their studies by 10.5% for Engineering students, by 10.9% for Pharmacy students and by 14.9% for students on the Agricultural Campus.

  Current rate per-course % of adjust., per year
Per-course increase 2016-17* Per-course increase 2017-18* Per-course increase 2018-19*
Engineering $793.20 5% $39.60 $41.70 $43.80
Pharmacy $838.20
5% $42.00 $44.10 $46.20
Ag Campus
$636.60 6.3% $42.20 $42.60 $45.30

*These increases are in addition to any general tuition increases that may be propsoed during this timeframe. For 2016-17, the BAC is recommending a 3% general increase.

Dr. Watters explained these programs were selected for additional tuition adjustments because they were ones in which tuition rates for Nova Scotia students are currently below the national average for comparable programs at other schools.

“At Dalhousie, we chose three programs rather than [raising tuition] across all programs,” she said, noting that the adjustments impact about 15.6% of Dal students based on current enrolment. “Over time, these increases will have a positive impact on those programs.”

If approved, half of the revenues generated from the adjustments in Engineering and Pharmacy during the phase-in period would go into those programs for improvements. All of the adjustment revenue from Agriculture would do the same, as the Agricultural Campus’ budget is funded separately within the university operating budget.

Hearing from students

The Dalhousie Student Union has been vocal in its opposition to the proposed tuition increases. As a demonstration, student leaders handed out macaroni and cheese at sessions on Studley and Sexton Campus, while some students on the Agricultural Campus brought inflatable cows to their session, with signs saying “we are not cash cows.”

Accordingly, many of the questions and comments across the four consultations related to tuition and fees, with questions ranging from the particulars of comparative numbers used in the BAC report to concerns about the rising cost of education and its impact on students.

Dr. Watters noted the pressures the university faces in closing the budget gap between provincial funding and cost increases for items such as faculty/staff compensation, utilities, etc., explaining that it requires carefully considering each of the mechanisms available under the university’s budget model. Striking the right balance between fee increases, budget cuts to faculties/units and the use of surplus funds, she said, is important to protect the quality of the university’s programs and services.

Inviting feedback

All of the feedback shared at the information and consultation sessions is being compiled by the Budget Advisory Committee and will be taken into consideration as the committee develops its final budget plan. Students and others in the Dal community can email additional feedback and comments to

This year, the BAC has also developed an interactive budget calculator that allows anyone to play with the variables available to the committee in balancing the operating budget. For example, the tool allows users to modify the funding that’s been proposed for targeted investments (increased support for facilities renewal, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, network infrastructure and strategic initiatives), or determine how much of a cut to faculties/departments would be required if proposed tuition increases were reduced or eliminated.

“[Students] have brought up some great points about how we might interpret things in a different way, so our next task is to take in all the information we have, run the models again and decide how best to interpret things for this budget and also how we can improve the system going forward," said Dr. Watters.

The Budget Advisory Committee’s updated operating budget plan is expected later this month. Once the president reviews and signs off on the BAC plan, it is then submitted to the Board of Governors for approval. The Board votes on tuition and fee increases at its April meeting (to ensure they can be implemented for the fall term) before voting to approve the overall operating budget in June.

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