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Considering budget priorities and pressures

- December 2, 2016

Carolyn Watters introduces Thursday's operating budget discussion forum. (Provided photo)
Carolyn Watters introduces Thursday's operating budget discussion forum. (Provided photo)

Students, faculty and staff turned out and tuned in for the first of two discussion forums this week on the university operating budget.

The forum, held Thursday afternoon in University Hall and livestreamed in Truro and online at dal.ca/budget, was an opportunity for members of the Dal community to share their thoughts on priorities and pressures related to Dal’s operating budget, which funds day-to-day operations for the university.

A second forum will take place on Friday, December 2, and Dal’s Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) is also seeking feedback via an online survey for students and faculty/staff.

Closing the gap

Dr. Watters opened the forum with a short overview of the operating budget, which was balanced for 2016-17 at $405.5 million. In particular, she drew attention to a systemic gap between expenditures and revenues:

  • Dal’s operating expenditures increase by 3-4 per cent annually. The bulk of that is compensation increases for faculty/staff based on collective agreements, as well as rising utility expenses.
  • But Dal’s operating revenues only increase by about 2 per cent each year. That’s taking into account both projected increases to Dal’s provincial operating grant and the maximum 3 per cent tuition increase allowed by the province.

That means a continued 1-2 per cent shortfall each year — even putting aside consideration of new spending that may be necessary to support key institutional goals.

“Our revenue sources are simply not keeping pace with expenses,” said Dr. Watters. “It’s not sustainable.”

In recent years, some of the ways Dal has closed this shortfall include implementing across-the-board budget reductions to faculties/units, using one-time reserve funds and reducing strategic initiative spending. Longer term, explained Dr. Watters, the university needs to find ways to reduce new spending and reduce overall costs.

“How do we want our money spent, in broad strokes?” asked Dr. Watters, setting the stage for the forum’s conversation, which was facilitated by Scott Comber of Dal’s Faculty of Management. Attendees discussed the pressures that emerge from the university’s funding constraints — impacts on the classroom, services and beyond — and discussed targets for spending priorities.

Insights from the two forums, as well as feedback from the online survey, will be collated and posted to the Provost’s website and shared with the Budget Advisory Committee (BAC), which advises the president on budgetary matters. The BAC’s first report on the upcoming 2017-18 operating budget is expected early in the new year.

Have your say

Miss the first forum? A second forum will take place on Friday, December 2 at 12 noon in University Hall, livestreamed online and in Haley 254 in Truro. Comments and contributions can also be emailed to BAC@dal.ca

The BAC is also welcoming input on priorities for the upcoming year through an online survey. The survey will be open until end of day on Friday, December 2.


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