The core challenge of Dal’s operating budget is easy to identify and more difficult to reckon with: each year, it costs more and more to run the university, and Dal’s revenues — from government funding and tuition — aren’t enough on their own to cover those rising costs.
That challenge was outlined in detail in the Budget Advisory Committee’s (BAC) “context report,” published in January, which explored both Dal’s rising costs (largely due to required compensation for faculty/staff, in line with collective agreements, along with other inflationary pressures) and the revenue constraints in Dal’s budget scenario.
Now, the BAC has released its draft operating budget plan for 2019-20, which reflects the trade-offs and challenges of moving the university’s mission forward in that core financial reality. But it also reflects the committee’s extensive engagement with the Dal community to-date: the report is filled with comments from faculty, staff and students around budget issues as well as detailed responses and insights from the committee.
“University budget is a balancing act. We need to invest in faculty renewal, increase their start‐ups to attract talents, invest in infrastructure to be competitive and promote innovation, and invest in students’ experiential learning so that we remain unique.” – Dalhousie faculty / staff member
The plan highlights include:
- Keeping more money in Dal’s Faculties and service/support units to pay for salaries and campus services.
- Crucial investments in campus infrastructure (classroom renewal, network capacity), student assistance and student experience, and the university’s Strategic Investments & Initiatives Fund.
- Tuition increases to generate more revenue — a 3% general increase for both domestic and international students, and a four-year, phased-in plan to further increase tuition for future international undergraduate students and international masters students in non‐thesis programs — those starting in fall 2019 or later — by an additional average 8.1% annually.
Full report and more details: dal.ca/budget
“Our goal is a university operating budget that is financially responsible while also advancing our strategic priorities and allowing for innovation,” says Teri Balser, university provost and chair of the Budget Advisory Committee.
“We had great input from our community to inform this report — through our survey, budget forums and meetings — and while there are often divergent views and opinions on many issues, the discussion is healthy and helpful in shaping our budget plan for this year and beyond.”
Student support, assistance and tuition
The BAC’s draft plan for the operating budget — which funds Dal’s day-to-day operations, including compensation for faculty/staff and much of the funding for Faculties and service/support units — follows a budget survey sent to all students, faculty and staff, which garnered nearly 1,000 responses, as well as three open budget forums in January and meetings with the DSU executive, deans and other groups to discuss budget pressures and priorities.
The report considers this feedback in detail, identifying some of the major themes and responses from the BAC and its recommendations. For example, the campus community identified student financial aid as a key priority, as well as the need to better support Dal’s overall student experience. This is why the BAC is recommending a $500,000 increase to the student assistance budget (bringing total operating budget support for student assistance to $12.2 million) and $500,000 in strategic initiatives funding specifically related to student experience initiatives.
“With increasing tuition, it is important to support students that may be struggling financially, either by providing bursaries and scholarships or providing services to help them find jobs and balance their work and schooling.” – Dalhousie student
One of key decision points with the budget plan is with respect to tuition — the second-largest source of revenue for the university’s operating budget, funding 41% of operations. The most recent memorandum of understanding between the Government of Nova Scotia and the province’s universities caps tuition increases for Nova Scotia students at 3%, while also restricting increases to Dal’s operating grant (which covers just under 50% of the budget) to 1% annually.
“As one of two primary sources of operating revenue, tuition is critical to ensuring a sustainable budget that enhances the university’s core mission,” says Dr. Balser.
This year’s budget plan recommends tuition increases of 3% for domestic and international students for 2019-20 as part of the overall budget plan. But many future international students — those starting in fall 2019 or later — will also see an additional increase next year, and for the three years after that.
Changes to international fees for future students
Dal’s international fees for undergraduate students are low compared to its peers in Canada’s U15 group of universities — the third-lowest, in fact, more than $10,000 below the average. (Page 41 of the BAC report has a full comparison chart.)
The budget plan recommends a four-year, phased-in approach to raising international tuition closer to that average, while exempting current students from those larger increases. The plan also invests more in Faculties and service/support units to support Dal’s growing international student population. Dal currently has nearly 4,200 international students (up by more than 2,400 since 2010-11), representing 22% of Dal’s student body.
The plan recommendations are as follows:
- In addition to the 3% general increase, tuition for international undergraduate students and international masters students in non‐thesis programs beginning their programs in 2019-20 or later would see an additional fee increase of an average of 8.1%.
- This additional increase would apply in 2019-20 and in each of the subsequent three years. This amounts to a total overall increase of approximately $5,900 — leaving Dal’s international fees still well below the U15 average.
- Current international students would be exempt from these larger increases for the duration of their program of study. For 2019-20, they would have the same 3% increase as domestic students.
- $700,000 in base funding would be invested in Faculties and service/support units to provide support for the recent growth in international students.
There is one more tuition change of note in the plan: for PhD students entering in the fall of 2019, international and domestic tuition will be reduced and charged at the same rate ($6,147) with the continuing fee eliminated.
“International students are an important part of the intellectual life of the university, at all levels,” says Dr. Balser. “Part of our commitment to research is to remove barriers to entry of PhD students, which is why BAC is recommending the elimination the international differential fee for PhD students and having one consistent rate per year.”
Making important investments in Dal’s mission
The most significant amount of input received by the BAC this year concerned campus infrastructure, including classrooms, classroom technology, information technology and the state of repair of various buildings. The committee is recommending an additional $1 million for facilities renewal and $600,000 more for IT network capacity and infrastructure.
“I have designed my courses with active learning. Recently my class size has grown and so no longer fits into the classroom I use; this is the only classroom over 100 seats that works with active learning. We can't be good teachers without good spaces to teach in.” ‐ Dalhousie faculty / staff
The BAC plan also continues a multi-year strategy by the BAC to lower the budget gap Faculties and service/support units are required to close to balance the budget. While Faculties/unit budgets do increase each year — largely due to required compensation increases to their faculty and staff — Dal’s revenues do not allow for funding to fully cover those cost increases.
At the height of government cuts in the early 2010s (when Dal faced a 10% operating grant decrease over three years), this funding gap forced Faculties and units to find cost savings or generate additional revenue to close an average gap of 3.3% each year. It has since gone down to 1.5% and, in this year’s budget plan, only 0.5%. This keeps more money within Faculties and units, allowing Deans and other leaders to prioritize things like faculty complement, service delivery and more, depending on the plans of each individual Faculty/unit.
Finally, a major point of input with the Dal community was with respect to the value of strategic funding. Dal’s Strategic Investments & Initiatives makes additional funds available to support new and innovative initiatives across the university in student services, research and many other areas. The BAC is recommending an allocation of $4.8 million for Strategic Investments & Initiatives in 2019-20, with priority areas for investment including initiatives under Dal’s equity, diversity and inclusiveness strategy; $200,000 next year (and the next two years) to the Libraries to augment the collections budget; priorities in grad student mental health support and professional development; and online and digital delivery of courses.
Keep being innovative with education to all walks of life or abilities.” – Dalhousie student
With the budget plan having now been shared with the university community, the BAC is inviting further input on its recommendations. Campus budget sessions are scheduled for mid-March, and feedback is also welcome by email at BAC@dal.ca.
The BAC — which, in addition to the provost, includes the VP finance and administration, one dean, two faculty members, one staff member and two students — will then compile the feedback and issue a final operating budget plan by the end of March. The Board of Governors will then vote to approve tuition and fees at its April meeting, followed by a vote on the full operating budget in June.
Learn more: dal.ca/budget
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