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Building Dal's budget plan

A look at draft recommendations for the 2017-18 operating budget

- February 17, 2017

Dal’s revenue sources (left) and expenditures (right) for its operating budget. (Source: BAC 2017-18 draft plan)
Dal’s revenue sources (left) and expenditures (right) for its operating budget. (Source: BAC 2017-18 draft plan)

Dalhousie’s Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) released its draft operating budget plan for 2017-18 on Friday, kickstarting the next phase of the annual budget process at the university with an eye to future years.

The report — which is preliminary pending further engagement with the Dal community — lays out expected revenues and expenditures for the coming year and provides recommendations on how the university can balance its budget, including specific proposals on topics such as strategic investments, budget reductions and tuition and fees.

Read the report: dal.ca/budget

This year’s draft plan follows a more thorough engagement process with the Dal community ahead of its publication. In addition to its usual meetings throughout the fall with student groups, Faculty deans, service unit heads and the Dalhousie Faculty Association, the university also held two in-person town hall sessions in December and offered an online community survey that drew nearly 1,300 responses. (A summary of feedback received can be found on pages 23-28 of the report [PDF].)

“We wanted to get more detail from the Dal community on budget pressures and priorities to help us map out a multi-year planning framework for the operating budget,” says Provost Carolyn Watters, chair of the Budget Advisory Committee.

The three-year framework, for which this upcoming year’s operating budget represents a first step, is focused on several goals:

  • Maintaining a balance between academic, support and administrative functions within the budget.
  • Not using reserve funds to balance the budget.
  • Reducing the level of annual adjustments to Faculty and service unit budgets.
  • Engaging in strategies for sustainable funding for both deferred maintenance and IT support to reduce increasing reliance on the operating budget.

Balancing the budget

The challenge Dal’s operating budget faces for 2017-18 is the same as in recent years: revenues are not keeping pace with expenditures.

“Dalhousie’s costs typically increase by 3-4% each year,” says Ian Nason, vice-president finance and administration. “However, even if we raise tuition by the maximum allowed by the government, revenues only increase by about 2%. So each year, we have to work to close that gap.”

Costs go up annually largely based on compensation (salaries, benefits, pension) for faculty/staff, as outlined in Dal’s collective agreements with its employee groups. Compensation is the largest line item in the operating budget — 74% of expenses — and, when combined with other inflationary costs, is set to increase Dal’s expenditures by $11.7M (prior to any cuts/reductions)

There are also targeted strategic areas where the BAC, based on community input, identifies that additional investment is necessary. These include: student assistance ($400,000 more for scholarships, bursaries and student employment); facilities renewal ($1M to continue upgrading Dal’s aging campus infrastructure); IT ($600,000 to upgrade network capacity and address related issues) and Strategic Initiatives spending ($581,000 to maintain the same level of support in the fund as last year).

However, Dalhousie expects only a 1% ($1.9M) increase to its provincial operating grant, which accounts for more than 52% of operating budget revenue. The rest of the operating budget’s revenue comes from tuition (just over 38%) and other revenues (9.5% — interest and endowment revenue, etc.).

Learn more: dal.ca/budget

Recommendations for fees, budget reductions

For 2017-18, the Budget Advisory Committee is recommending a mixture of both fee increases and budget cuts:

  • A 3% tuition increase across all programs (including the international differential fee)
  • A 1.9% reduction to budgets of Faculties and service units

BAC is not recommending any further increases above 3% to professional programs or the international differential fee (where increases are not capped by the provincial government). The additional tuition adjustments approved in last year’s budget for courses in select programs (Agriculture, Pharmacy, Engineering) continue to be implemented.

Dr. Watters says these recommendations would make key progress towards BAC’s three-year planning goals by lowering the reduction to Faculty/unit budgets (down from 2.5% in 2016-17) and avoiding the use of reserve funds (meant for use on “one time” basis, not ongoing base budget support).

“Our funding environment has its challenges — challenges also faced by our peer universities — but we’re committed to supporting our programs, student experiences, research and service as we work to balance our budget,” says Dr. Watters.  

Next steps

You can read the full Budget Advisory Committee report, as well as review further details on the operating budget, at dal.ca/budget

The BAC is also gathering feedback on its draft plan by email at BAC@dal.ca.
It will also be holding a series of Campus Budget Sessions, led by Dr. Watters, offering a deeper look at the operating budget plan with an opportunity for Q&A. (See schedule below.)

The BAC will update its preliminary recommendations with a final plan in late March. Tuition and fees are then voted on by Dal’s Board of Governors at its April meeting (so they can be implemented in time for the upcoming academic year) with the final budget going to the Board for approval in June.

Campus budget sessions

Wednesday, March 1
Council Chambers, Student Union Building
DSU Council Meeting (livestreamed on the DSU’s YouTube channel)
6 p.m.

Thursday, March 2
Morroy Building (I Building), MA120 (Sexton Campus)
12:00-1:00 p.m.

Thursday, March 2
University Hall, Macdonald Building (Studley Campus)
4:00-5:00 p.m.

Wednesday, March 8
(Originally scheduled for Feb. 28)
Riverview Room, Jenkins Hall (Ag Campus, Truro)
4:30-5:30 p.m.


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