Here's what you need to know about UBC's $3.1 billion 2021/22 budget

UBC is set to spend $3.08 billion in the 2021/22 fiscal year.

The Board of Governors met at the end of April to approve tuition increases and the budget for the 2021/22 fiscal year. However, not all governors voted in favour of the budget — UBC Vancouver student governors voted against the budget due to vague spending plans, and concern over the budget’s one-time approach to student support.

This year’s total operating expense of $3.08 billion prioritized UBC’s COVID-19 response; anti-racism, equity, diversity and inclusion across UBC’s campuses; the President’s Academic Excellence Initiative; the Climate Action Plan; and a variety of student and faculty initiatives.

Here’s what you need to know.

By the numbers

UBC’s budget assumes a total operating revenue of $3.09 billion and a total operating expense of $3.08 billion, leaving a surplus of around $10 million. In 2020/21, the university ran a deficit of $50 million.

There is a planned operating deficit of $61 million in the consolidated budget, which the budget document said “reflects the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic” — offset by a $71 million surplus from the main endowment, unrestricted research funds and the capital bias. Last year, the university forecasted a $84 million operating deficit.

Of UBC’s operating revenue, $971 million is projected to come from provincial grants and $984 million is projected to come from tuition. $385 million of the tuition line item will come from domestic students, with $600 million from international students. The university intends to spend $1.9 billion on salaries and benefits and $1.1 billion on non-salary expenses.

Domestic students, who comprised 52 per cent of student enrolment in 2020/21, will see an increase of two per cent in their tuition fees. International students make up the remaining 48 per cent and will see an increase of between two to four per cent. These increases will generate $18 million of incremental cash, which has been incorporated into the 2021/22 budget.

In terms of “strategic investments,” the university’s total commitment adds up to nearly $175 million dollars for the 2021/22 fiscal year, including approximately $7 million for COVID-19 contingency plans. That’s $50 million more than the university budgeted for strategic investments for the 2020/21 year.

Nearly $70 million has been allotted to “people and places.” This comprises funding for Workday; the university’s equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives; student support services; transportation and infrastructure developments; and various research awards and fellowships.

In the live tweeted Board of Governors meeting on April 19, Comptroller Karamjeet Heer said the university will spend $11 million to support the transition to in-person classes, $10 million for mental health services and $2 million for scholarships.

Across both campuses, $26.7 million was reserved for “research excellence,” which involves building and enhancing research infrastructure, as well as “facilitating knowledge and resource sharing.” $23 million was devoted to “transformative learning,” which encompasses fundraising and enhancing student’s access to university services.

$11.3 million was allotted to “local and global engagement.” This commitment covers Indigenous engagement and support, as well as the university’s Climate Action Plan.

According to the Board of Governors meeting on April 19, nearly $3 million will be dedicated to implementing the Indigenous Strategic Plan this year.

$6.3 million was set aside for “sustainment, risk and compliance,” including enhancing the university’s security systems, supporting classroom upgrades and other infrastructure developments, along with various administrative and operating costs.

Lack of specificity in the budget, student rep says

But UBC Vancouver student representatives Max Holmes and Georgia Yee voted against the budget — mainly on the $18 million incremental cash coming from the tuition increases.

Holmes said he felt it was “irresponsible” to approve of it given the lack of accompanying documents, as well as the unclear rationale behind the new spending priorities.

“I felt it was against the best interest of the University to set a precedent for the Board to approve the spending of this money with the little amount of detail and justification given for this large sum of money,” he wrote in an email to The Ubyssey.

Holmes did not feel the uncertainty of COVID-19 was an adequate reason for the lack of specificity and rationale behind the tuition increases.

Holmes also felt it was “disingenuous” to classify the spending of the $18 million as “student priorities” given that most students, as well as all student unions and elected student leaders have continued to oppose the tuition increases.

The public letter written jointly by student governors Holmes and Yee, as well as UBCO student governor and former Board of Governors student representatives Jassim Naqvi and Jeanie Malone echoed these sentiments.

“It is very easy for this Board to increase tuition annually, as we have been doing so for countless years. But we fundamentally oppose pursuing tuition increases without exploring all other avenues, as we have heard in every annual student consultation that these tuition increases directly impact our most vulnerable students,” the governors wrote in the letter.

The governors also expressed concern over the one-time approach to financial aid for certain student supports, including housing bursaries and food insecurity initiatives, which may not be continued in future years.

For this reason, Holmes said he would have preferred to vote on the $18 million in June or in installments.

“Nonetheless, it is my hope that the Board will receive more detailed and public updates on where this money will be spent at our future meetings and that governors and the student unions will be able to provide input on how this money is being spent before it is allocated and spent,” he wrote.