Message from Brian Jessop, Vice-President, Administration
I am writing to provide you with an update on the budget process and results of the meeting of the Board of Governors on April 19th.
Last night, the Board of Governors met and approved the 2017/18 budget.
Consultation and advocacy
The University Budget Committee, with 18 members including students, faculty and staff representatives, met eight times in preparation for the Board meeting. The committee reviewed trending data, and received presentations from the Students’ Union and Student Experience reflecting student requirements and enrolment data.
This year, as part of a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Students’ Union, there was also a presentation by the Mount’s leadership team as part of a town hall organized by the Students’ Union and a similar presentation and discussion with the Students’ Representative Council, which includes students elected to represent the Mount’s specific student demographics.
Following their data review and presentations, the Committee members provided input and discussed drafts of the budget in advance of the presentation to the Board.
It is also of note that an ongoing part of our process involves regular communication with the provincial government to make them aware of the role we play in the province and how we contribute to the success of the region. We consistently demonstrate the Mount’s unique place in the post-secondary sector and the need for funding to ensure our continued success and that of current and future students.
Balancing the budget
Our 2017/18 balanced operating budget upholds our solid track record of focusing on our students while being financially responsible. There are a number of factors that are taken into consideration during the budget process and when making decisions about how best to allocate funds.
The grant we receive from the Province was reduced by $1.9 million from 2011 to 2014. The Province has since increased the grant by 1% each year, or $200k, but this will not be sufficient to address the increase in costs of operating the university.
In 2015, the Province of Nova Scotia announced that they would allow universities to make one-time adjustments to tuition (called “tuition market adjustments”), to be implemented over three years, 2016/17 to 2018/19, outside of the 3% annual tuition increase that was previously allowed by the government.
These funds were to be used in the future to address any potential gaps given uncertainties in enrolments and other factors, and a portion will serve to augment our bursary fund and support our students.
In addition to the context noted above, the Board and associated committees took into consideration the importance of maintaining student services and a continued commitment to academic excellence and student success. The University will be addressing a number of priorities that were identified through budget discussions, including:
- maintenance of counselling services and establishment of a permanent position for the Learning Strategist,
- a continued commitment to faculty renewal,
- additional funding for library acquisitions,
- development of an online bursary application system and inventory of funding sources for student needs,
- renewal of lab computer equipment on a cyclical basis,
- upgrading seating in two classrooms in Seton,
- renovation of 2 Melody Drive which will support our faculty and provide new research opportunities for students, and
- an increase in bandwidth to improve technology access on campus.
As well, the University’s commitment to provide financial support to students is continuing with the availability of $2.2 million in scholarships, awards, bursaries, tuition waivers and discounts for 2017/2018. This year, there will be $50k in new targeted bursaries as a result of the funds allocated as part of the tuition market adjustment.
The University continues to focus on enrolments, including attracting new students and retaining current students, and seeking efficiencies where possible. That said, we have been experiencing declining enrolments, in part due to the demographic trends affecting our region, and expect these challenges to continue. At the same time, we are required to address the gap in funding, as costs, including salaries and benefits – which account for nearly 78% of our expenditures – rise over time.
To balance the 2017/18 budget it was necessary to apply a portion of the tuition adjustment funds from 2016/17 and all of the funds from 2017/18 to the operating budget.
This year, the Board approved a balanced budget which includes a 3% increase in tuition for domestic and international differential fees in addition to the tuition market adjustment. The decision to increase tuition was made after much deliberation and consideration of all factors including the long-term financial sustainability of the University.
Continued commitment to accessibility
The Mount continues to be the most affordable university in Nova Scotia, with the lowest undergraduate tuition in the Province and tuition for an arts program, for example, at 5% below the provincial average.
The University will continue to focus on enrolment and efficiencies where possible, all while supporting our current and future students.