Budget Advisory Committee releases final operating budget plan for 2017‑18

- March 24, 2017

Some key details on Dal's operating budget for 2017-18. See the full infographic and learn more at dal.ca/budget
Some key details on Dal's operating budget for 2017-18. See the full infographic and learn more at dal.ca/budget

Dalhousie’s Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) has released the final version of its operating budget plan for the upcoming year, updating the draft report shared with the Dal community last month.

Read the full report and more: dal.ca/budget

As in the draft version, the plan recommends both tuition increases and Faculty/unit budget reductions to balance the 2017-18 operating budget. The percentages for these also remain the same from the draft report: a 3% tuition increase across all programs (including the international differential fee) and a 1.9% reduction to Faculty/unit budgets.

As with the first draft, the plan reflects ongoing engagement between the BAC and the Dal community, including meetings, surveys, town halls and recent campus budget sessions. The final plan will be presented to the president, with the recommended budget going to the Board of Governors for approval in two stages — tuition and fee recommendations in April, the recommended budget in June.

Carolyn Watters, Provost and Vice-President Academic at Dal and chair of the BAC, says the recommendations reflect a balanced approach to addressing the projected $10.6M gap between rising costs and expected revenues.

“Nearly all of our operating funds come from two sources — government funding and tuition fees,” says Dr. Watters. “So when government funding doesn’t keep pace with the rising costs of running the university, we have to close that funding gap. And the two primary means that we have to do so are to increase tuition revenue and reduce how much we spend — which we do by applying a budget reduction to all Faculties and units across the university.”

As explained in the BAC report, Faculty deans and service unit heads are accountable to meet their budget targets by “finding efficiencies, increasing revenue, prioritizing programs and other means necessary to achieve their academic plans within the context of the university strategic priorities.”

Striking a balance to balance the budget

Dr. Watters says that a balance between fee increases and budget adjustments is crucial. The $10.6M budget shortfall is the equivalent of a 6.9% tuition increase or a 3.8% budget cut to Faculties/units. Neither of these extremes are viable options: tuition increases are capped by the provincial government, while Dal’s Faculties and units, in the face of either reduced or limited government funding, have had to make significant cuts in the last decade. The BAC believes a cut of a magnitude approaching 4% in a single year would severely harm teaching and support services.  

As for the use of reserve funds — resources accumulated by the university when the operating budget has a surplus, typically due to larger-than-anticipated enrolment — these have been used in recent years to help mitigate the impact of reductions in government funding. However, the funds are meant for use on a “one time” basis to address extraordinary budget pressures, and using them to repeatedly close the budget gap isn’t a sustainable approach.

“Our guiding principles for the BAC outline that we must develop a budget that supports the university’s mission in a financially sustainable way going forward,” says Dr. Watters. “And so, one of the priorities of our three-year planning window is to ensure that reserve funds are used the way they’re meant to be — for truly unexpected needs — rather than as a stop-gap solution that simply delays addressing the structural budget gap for another year.”

Looking ahead to three-year goals — informed by the Dal community

Other goals that the BAC has for the next three years of budget planning (dependent on securing sufficient revenue to meet expenditures) include:

  • Reducing the percentage of annual budget adjustments to better allow Faculties/units to support faculty renewal and other priorities
  • An ongoing investment in technology infrastructure and facilities renewal
  • Using incentives to support strategic student recruitment
  • Continued pursuit of cost efficiencies

The priorities for this year’s report, as well as the three-year planning window, were shaped through the BAC’s continued engagement with stakeholders from the Dal community, Dr. Watters explains. Beginning in the fall, the BAC not only met with student groups, deans, unit heads and the Dalhousie Faculty Association, but also hosted open town halls and a survey that generated nearly 1,300 responses from students, faculty and staff. The BAC then hosted additional campus budget sessions in early March following the release of its draft report. (A summary of this input can be found in Appendix C of the report).

Dr. Watters says several of the common themes between responses from students and faculty/staff — like student financial assistance, technology infrastructure and improving campus facilities — are addressed directly in this year’s recommendations. Others, such as concerns about tuition increases and faculty renewal, were carefully considered in decisions (respectively) to increase student aid and reducing the cut to Faculty/unit budgets (which was 2.5% last year).

“We appreciate that tuition increases and budget cuts are rarely welcome news for anyone in the Dal community,” says Dr. Watters. “But by taking a balanced approach, we get closer to our goal of a sustainable budget that ensures we continue to support our university’s vital mission of teaching and learning, research and service to our communities.”

Learn more: dal.ca/budget


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