Public forums showcase perspectives on Dal’s draft operating budget

- March 6, 2020

Dal Provost Teri Balser talks budget at a public forum on Wednesday afternoon. (Staff photo)
Dal Provost Teri Balser talks budget at a public forum on Wednesday afternoon. (Staff photo)

The Dalhousie community got its first look at the university's draft 2020-2021 operating budget last week, a report that lays out recommendations and spending priorities for the upcoming year.

The report follows an extended consultation process with students, faculty and staff. This time around, that included input sessions with key groups across the university, the sharing of a context paper, and a survey to the entire campus community.

That process continued this week as the Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) — the cross-departmental group that collects input and makes draft recommendations — hosted two campus forums where people could give further input and feedback on the recommendations.

“It’s a lengthy process and quite comprehensive, and I believe fairly unique in this country as well in terms of its consultative nature and overall transparency,” explained Provost and BAC Chair Teri Balser in a Wednesday afternoon forum held in the Goldberg Computer Science Building.

More on budget:

Another forum was held Wednesday evening exclusively for students.

Determining key priorities

By engaging different groups across the university in the budget process, Dr. Balser said the BAC is able to better understand various priorities and create a more balanced plan that meets the needs and wishes of a broader cross-section of the campus community.

Key priorities conveyed this year ranged from the need for more student supports and services (health and well-being, financial support, experiential learning) to faculty renewal (hiring more) and investments in infrastructure and facilities maintenance.

“As much as we want to fund everything, we actually do have to make choices. We can’t address everything,” Dr. Balser told those gathered at the afternoon session. “The goal that we have is we try to strike a balance and develop an operating budget that is financially sustainable and that advances our strategic priorities and allows for some innovation.”

Dal has limited short-term flexibility in its operating budget. The BAC draft plan estimates that, including compensation, Faculty and service/support unit costs will go up by 3.9% in 2020-21. In contrast, Dal’s government grant, which makes up just under half of the operating budget, only increases 1% each year, as outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Nova Scotia’s universities and the provincial government. This year, the BAC has recommended a 3% tuition increase as part of measures to increase revenue and address rising costs.

Read also: Investing in priorities: Draft budget plan for 2020 21 released (Feb 27)

Given the recurring nature of this budget situation from year to year, Dr. Balser said many of the issues are best addressed in longer-term, strategic ways — something identified in input from the university community.

“A lot of the input that we get is not so much related to the annual operating budget. It’s really more related to people’s concerns about the longer term and strategic areas about where the university needs to go,” she said.

Next steps

Next week, Dr. Balser takes the draft report to University Senate for further feedback.

The BAC’s next step after all this will be to incorporate the feedback into its final recommendations and report, which is then presented to the president and following that the Board of Governors.

Tuition is then voted on at the Board’s April meeting to enable planning for the upcoming academic year, with approval on the full budget following at the group’s June meeting.


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