UBC Faculty Association Presidential Election

Voting for the UBC Faculty Association President and three Members-at-Large opened today and will remain open for two weeks (ending March 27th).  Solo candidates for other open executive committee positions were acclaimed, including me as Vice President for a 2-year term starting on July 1st.

I never expected to run again for a position on the FA Executive Committee, having had a multi-year stint on the Executive, including as Vice President and then President.

Why would I run again?

I have been concerned about the state of the Faculty Association for some time for reasons related the UBC Administration’s approach to its relationship with the Faculty Association, which I saw in some detail when I sat on the Board of Governors, and related to the apparent internal dynamics of the Association, particularly as an employer itself.

While I suspect many UBC faculty give little thought to their union (or even imagine themselves in a union), I know how important it is for UBC’s faculty to have a strong and well-functioning faculty association.

Two of the core labour relations functions of the UBCFA are to undertake collective bargaining and to manage grievances (informal and formal).

The UBCFA recently settled a 3-year collective agreement that pushed the boundaries of the so-called “mandate” set by the provincial government. The settlement includes a reasonable salary settlement, some improvements in benefits, and some improvements to terms of employment for members.

Member-related grievances are overseen by our Member Services and Grievances Committee, and operationally managed by the FA’s staff. This is hard work, and it requires both the Executive Committee and the FA staff to work together, and in support of each other, to meet their respective obligations to the membership.

We have two candidates for President of our faculty association in this election:  Dr Nason, who is the current President, and Dr Petrina, who is the current Vice President.

Based on their candidate statements, they present extraordinarily different visions for the future of the Faculty Association.

Dr Nason has outlined some of the successes of the Faculty Association during her presidency (which I believe she would attribute to the collective work of many) and her vision of the work she would do to make the UBCFA a stronger and more inclusive faculty association during a second term.

Dr Petrina presents a call to the membership to make dramatic changes to the Faculty Association, which he apparently sees as failing its membership through  its current policies and practices. Indeed, he sharply criticizes the FA’s efforts in bargaining and in grievance management.

Does Dr Petrina offer us a reasoned and reasonable process for the dramatic transformation of the Faculty Association he is campaigning to implement? How will he convince the Executive Committee (and ultimately, the membership) his vision is the right direction for the Faculty Association, and how will he engage the Executive Committee to build out a detailed plan for his called-for revolution? Does he offer significant evidence the Faculty Association is truly failing to properly serve its members?  These are some of the many questions Dr Petrina’s call-to-arms raises for me.

While I could support a process to assess how well the Faculty Association is serving its members, I cannot support drastic changes to the Association without strong evidence such changes are essential to a healthy future for the Association and its members. Nor can I support making changes to the Faculty Association without bringing them, in detail, to the membership for a direct vote.

Thus, I will be voting for Dr Nason for President.



UBC Board Governance: Elected Governors – Appointed Governors

This is one of a series of posts on my thoughts and experiences as an elected faculty governor on UBC’s Board of Governors. My opinions are my own and do not represent the opinions of other governors or of the Board itself. 

In my last post, I presented some perspectives on board governance issues that affect the participation of the elected governors in the business of the Board of Governors.

The issues I raised arise from sharp differences between the way the elected governors view their role on the Board and the way some of the appointed governors (and some members of the administration) view the role of elected governors on the Board.

It would be an easy trap to fall into to try to interpret these differences by making assumptions about the intentions of those involved in the disagreements. I think it would be a mistake to do so because I believe this is about resolving a difference of visions of how the university community participates in its own governance, and, as such, this is not simply connected to the intentions of the individual governors. (It would be safest to assume everyone is well-intentioned, if one felt the need to ascribe intentions to others at all.)

I (and other elected governors) have strong disagreements with the perspectives of some of the appointed governors in leadership roles on the Board over how elected governors are to participate in the Board’s business and over how matters pertaining to elected governors should be discussed by the Board. These are not personal disagreements.

The indoctrination of governors when they come onto the Board seems heavily influenced by the ideas and philosophies of organizations like the AGB, a US-based organization, when it comes to building perspectives on the elected governors’ role on the Board. The AGB pushes the idea that students, staff, and faculty on boards cannot be sufficiently “independent” to participate in making good board decisions.  In effect, the AGB rejects the idea that a university community has the right to participate in its own governance.  (I would expect the AGB to object to my characterization of their position, but I tend to effects-based analyses, and the effects I see lead me to conclude their approach acts to limit the participation of community-elected members on boards.)

The University Act puts us on the Board, which means the government has decided a university can be well-governed when members of its own community participate as members of the Board of Governors.  The AGB generally works in contexts where the founding legislation of universities does not provide for faculty, staff, or student representation on boards. (For example, the University of Michigan Board of Regents has no faculty, staff, or students on it, and its members are elected in statewide elections.)

The idea that elected governors are not “independent” is relied on heavily in many of the arguments I hear to limit elected governor participation in Board business. These ideas appear in many of the documents or books on governance members of the Board receive as part of our “education” on being better governors, materials that are hardly unbiased in some cases. (Some members of the administration also hold to the idea elected governors should not participate in some Board business, which influences the views of some of the appointed governors.)

Given the influence and perceived authority of established organizations like the AGB, and the influence of members of the administration, it is not surprising some appointed governors would hold to the position that it is reasonable to limit the participation of elected governors in board business.

That said, acting on this belief to exclude elected governors without engaging with the elected governors to discuss the issue does not make for good board governance.

A few comments on the appointed governors.

As a general rule, I avoid mentioning individual governors (or administrators) in my posts, though I occasionally refer to the chair of a committee or the board by their position. It is usually not relevant who the individuals are when I write about matters on my mind as an elected faculty representative on the UBC Board of Governors, and this is also the case with the present issue.

The provincial government has appointed some excellent people to the UBC Board of Governors. They are dedicated, talented individuals who are genuinely committed to UBC. In my experience, they are persons of high integrity. They certainly work hard on the University’s behalf, and for no compensation.

While a few appointed governors are active members of the BC NDP, I am unaware of the political affiliations, if any, of most of the governors. I do not imagine the provincial government unduly influencing the Board in our meetings through the appointed governors.

The Board’s main contact with the government is through the required regular meetings between the Board Chair (and usually Vice Chairs) and the Ministry of Advanced Education. The University’s primary working engagement with government is through the Office of the VP External Relations.

Government certainly has an influence on matters at UBC, and I will be highlighting this in some of my future posts on specific issues (e.g. COVID).


UBC Board Governance: Elected Governor Participation in Board Business

This will be one of a series of posts on my thoughts and experiences as an elected faculty governor on UBC’s Board of Governors. My opinions are my own and do not represent the opinions of other governors or of the Board itself. 

British Columbia’s original University Act of 1908 created a Board of Governors consisting of the Chancellor, who acted as chair, the President, and nine persons appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.  Faculty and staff were explicitly excluded from being appointed to the Board (Section 35, with reference to Section 39(f)). Students are not mentioned at all, but in 1908, no one would imagine students being appointed to any university governing body.

Professors, including Deans, were involved in university governance through the Senate and their Faculties. Students were excluded from participation in the governance of their university.

The current University Act (from 1996, but with subsequent legislative changes) provides for 8 elected governors on UBC’s Board of Governors, including 3 faculty members, 3 students, and 2 staff members. The Chancellor and the President are still ex-officio members, but the Chancellor no longer chairs the Board of Governors. There are now 11 governors appointed by the government, and the Act requires the board chair to be chosen from these 11 members.1 Other than this exclusion from becoming chair of the board, there are no other restrictions in the University Act on elected governor participation in board business. 

Given the absence of any restrictions in the legislation, one expects the elected governors to participate in every aspect of board business unless they are in conflict of interest for a matter on the board’s agenda. This implies they are eligible for membership on any committee or even to chair many of the committees, with the decisions for such assignments based entirely on their suitability given their skill sets and experiences. The Committee Rules and Practices (Section 4) of UBC’s Board of Governors confirm this by listing no restrictions based on whether a governor is elected or appointed.  The terms of reference of the Board’s committees do set the composition of each committee, but they do not restrict any governor from being appointed as chair of a committee based on whether they are elected or appointed governors.

In practice, it is likely the chair of the board’s finance committee, for example, will be chosen from among the appointed governors given the need for an expert financial qualification and background as basic competencies to lead these committees. (The government office that appoints people to the boards of crown agencies takes into consideration the needs of a board for certain skills sets.)  In theory, however, an elected faculty governor from the Sauder School’s Finance Division or Accounting Division, say, would be qualified to chair this committee.

How is conflict of interest (COI) considered in these committee assignments and the subsequent work these committees do?

UBC’s Board of Governors operates under the Code of Conduct and Conflict of Interest Guidelines (“the Code“) approved by the Board and last updated in 2017. Section 6 of the Code defines conflict of interest in terms of “private interests” and “private duties.”  The Code is consistent with the University Act in not placing restrictions on governors’ participation in the board based on their category of elected or appointment.

Some people bristle at the lack of such restrictions as they imagine constant conflicts of interest for students, staff, and faculty to even be on the Board of Governors.  Indeed, it has long been the position of the Association of Governing Boards (AGB), a US organization, that faculty, staff, and students should not be on university boards: “It is AGB’s view that faculty, staff, and students ordinarily should not serve as voting members of their own institution’s governing board because such involvement runs counter to the principle of independence of judgment required of board members” (from PDF p. 7 of  the AGB’s Statement on Board Responsibility for Institutional Governance.)

The AGB has had great influence at UBC in recent years. While much of the work of the AGB is valuable, their position that elected governors should not be on university boards has been problematical in my experience.  Our Board leadership seems to have consulted with them on issues where there is a clash of opinions with the elected governors about our roles on the Board. This is in spite of feedback from some of the elected governors, myself included, that we object to using the advice and services of an organization that believes we should not be on the Board in the first place.

Of course, the University Act statutorily settles the legitimacy of faculty, student, and staff representatives on boards for BC universities. This statutory legitimacy means decisions that would limit or exclude these elected representatives from participating in the business of the university must clear a high bar before being made. Here in BC (and the rest of Canada), we have clearly decided there are advantages to having the university community participate in its own governance.

Issues 1:  Committee Composition and Assignments.

Just as I came on the Board, new terms of reference for the Board’s committees had been passed by the Board after a review of the committees. These changes included changes to the composition of the committees, which resulted in reducing the representation of elected governors below proportional representation based on our prevalence on the Board (a ratio of 8 elected governors to 11 appointed governors) on some key committees.

The Chancellor, the President, and the Board Chair are ex officio members of all committees. Because the Board Chair is also an appointed governor, I could make an argument the working ratio for committees should be consistent with the ratio of 8 elected governors to 10 appointed governors.

When the updated committee assignments came out just 3 months after I came onto the Board, I learned I had been removed from the Finance Committee and the Governance Committee. Eventually the Chair of the Finance Committee (who seemed as surprised as I was that I had been removed from the committee) used his power as Chair to invite me (and another elected governor who had been removed from the Committee) to participate as a non-voting member of the committee, including in closed and in camera sessions. The Chair of the Board told me the new rules at the time had reduced the number of elected governors on the Finance Committee to 2, one of whom must be a student. There are 5 appointed governors on the Finance Committee.  (This made the ratio of elected to appointed governors equivalent to 8 to 20 instead of 8 to 10.)

In response to a request to reconsider the composition of the Finance Committee, the Board changed the rules again to include 3 elected governors on the Finance Committee, one student, one staff, and one faculty governor, and I was assigned to be on the Finance Committee again. There remain 5 appointed governors on this committee. This 3 to 5 ratio is not the 4 to 5 ratio of elected governors to appointed governors on the Board. This change took several months to happen, during which UBC’s faculty did not have a voting representative on one of the most important committees of the Board.

The Governance Committee also has a reduced ratio of 3 elected to 5 appointed governors instead of a 4 to 5 ratio. Several elected governors raised concerns about this in September, but no changes have been made so far.

The Property Committee has equal numbers of elected and appointed governors ( 4 to 4), as does the People, Community, and International Committee (4 to 4).

The Executive Committee, which is composed of the chairs of the Board’s committees, has 2 elected governors and 7 appointed governors. Note there are only 2 committees chaired by elected governors. A student is invited to participate in a non-voting capacity on the Executive Committee and this role is rotated between the student governors. Given this committee’s powers, particular during periods between regular Board meetings, I believe the membership of this committee should be rebalanced to better reflect the proportion of elected governors on the Board and to ensure there is a student member.

Given the increasing delegation of the Board’s work to its committees, and the increasing use of the consent agenda in Board meetings, it is important to ensure the perspectives of elected governors, and hence the university community, are well-represented on all the Board’s committees, including in the leadership of these committees.  In theory, even though few elected governors chair a committee, elected governors can also take the role of vice-chair on some committees. However, the role of vice chair is not well-defined and so the participation of vice chairs in the leadership of the committees is highly dependent on the committee chairs’ engagement with their vice chairs.

Issues  2: Committee Assignments and Accountability to the Board

By the current rules of the Board (Section 4), the committee assignments are made by the Board Chair with the assistance of the President. The Board Chair then decides who to assign as chairs of each committee in consultation with the Board’s Vice Chair (we have 2 Vice Chairs at this time).   These assignments are not subject to final approval by the Board.

This process provides the President with great influence over the committee assignments. And this influence is invisible, even to the Board itself.

In my opinion, this practice does not allow for  transparency and accountability to the Board, and hence to the university community and the general public.

UBC’s Board of Governors should create a nominating committee to recommend committee assignments to the Board. Queen’s University’s Board of Trustee’s, for example, has successfully used this approach for some time through its Governance and Nominating Committee.

Issue 3:  COI and Exclusion of Elected Governors

A governor with a conflict of interest (COI) connected to an agenda item for a Board committee or the Board itself needs to declare their conflict and a decision is made as to how it will be handled. In some cases, it is appropriate to recuse oneself from the discussion and deliberation on that item. A governor should also raise a potential COI matter related to another governor when they believe one may exist. The Board has encoded its approach to COI in the Code, which provides guidance on how to proceed when COI is raised.

Recall that COI is defined in terms of a governor’s private interests and private duties. This means any COI conversation must engage the individual governor as part of the process to consider their private interests and private duties. The Code (Section 7.6, e.g.) is clear on this point.

The Code does not anticipate COI decisions based solely on whether a governor is an elected governor.

In March 2022, the Board Chair communicated to faculty and staff governors that we would be excluded from Board decisions about compensation and terms and conditions in contracts when the Board appoints senior administrators based on a determination that we would be in conflict of interest as employees of the University. In this determination, we would not just be asked to abstain from voting, but we would be denied access to relevant documents and be asked to recuse ourselves from the discussion and deliberations.

It is worth noting that the compensation of all senior administrators in BC universities is publicly released each year, as required by law. Contracts are available to the public through a Freedom of Information request.

This sudden exclusion was a surprise to me since I had already participated fully in appointments and reappointments since joining the Board, including in the reappointment of the President.

Contrary to the Code, I had not even been informed any COI question had been raised involving me, and I certainly had not participated in any process to examine my private interests and private duties in relation to this matter.

I raised my concerns and objections to the Board Chair immediately and received no response until after the Board meeting in June, when the matter was referred to the Governance Committee.

Eventually, an interim decision was made between Board meetings to allow faculty governors to participate fully in the appointments of non-academic administrators and staff governors to participate fully in the appointments of academic administrators.  Faculty governors could participate fully in the appointment of the VP Finance and Operations, for example, but could not participate fully in the appointment of the VP Academic and Provost or a Dean.

Naturally, I asked whether the faculty governors would be allowed to participate fully in the appointment of the President, the most senior academic administrator appointment in the University. (The President’s contract is published online, so it seemed absurd to me that faculty governors would be denied this document.)

In the end, the Governance Committee decided that COI is to be assessed with respect to the private interests and private duties of governors, as the Code says, and so faculty and staff governors could participate in these decisions unless there was a conflict arising from a private interest or private duty.

I had thought this decision had settled the way in which COI matters involving elected governors would be managed.

In October, another situation arose in which a COI determination was made that affected how the elected faculty and staff governors will participate in Board business and, again, it was made without engaging the faculty governors in the discussion.  Since the matter is still to be resolved, I will not provide any details here.

To be clear, I am not arguing that faculty and staff governors could not have conflicts of interest that arise from our other relationships to the University, including our employment relationships. I am simply saying that a governor (elected or appointed) should be provided with an opportunity to be engaged with the matter before they are excluded from Board business.  The Board should follow the Code.




1  At UBC, the process of electing a chair of the board is overseen by the Chancellor, who consults with all governors, and all governors are eligible to vote on the appointment of the chair of the board.


UBC Budget 2022: Impact of the Vancouver Five-Year Enrolment Plan on Faculty Finances

At the Vancouver Senate meeting of February 9, 2022, the enrolment targets for 2022/23 were put forward for approval. The accompanying documents (p. 94ff) give a 5-year forecast for FTE degree program enrolments in each faculty on the Vancouver campus to 2026/27. I have taken these forecasts and run them through the Tuition Allocation Model (TAM) to see what faculties might expect over the next 5 years.  In this post, I present some of the results of this analysis along with some commentary.  I have used publicly available data only.  The enrolment targets for 2022/23 for the Okanagan campus were presented on February 24, 2022 (pp. 21ff), but a 5-year forecast for the Okanagan campus was not included in this report to the Okanagan Senate. 

The UBC Administration has presented a 5-year forecast for enrolments in degree programs in the Vancouver faculties to the Vancouver Senate as part the documents supporting approval of the enrolment targets for 2022/23.  Table 2 in this report (p. 97 of the linked document) gives forecasts for UBCV Normal Load FTE by Faculty/School and Fiscal Year for all programs.  I will focus primarily on the three largest first-degree undergraduate faculties, namely Applied Science, Arts, and Science and apply the TAM based on their forecasted enrolments to see the effects of this plan on undergraduate tuition revenues. (Faculties also have tuition revenues for graduate students and non-degree students.  I do not consider these. Nor do I consider other sources of revenue faculties may have.)

I will also discuss the key parameter in the TAM that determines how much is allocated to the Academic Excellence Funds (AEF) and how it affects the overall allocation outcomes.

My first caveat for the reader is the enrolment forecasts are given for undergraduate degree registrants, not course enrolments. One way to look at the faculty tuition revenue I present is to imagine it as base income for a faculty, but then a faculty has both accounts payable (for its students taking courses in other faculties) and accounts receivable (for students from other faculties taking its courses). For some faculties, there is a net gain, but not for others. Unfortunately, I have not found any public data giving direct and detailed data on inter-faculty “service teaching.” While I could make estimates of these variations based on degree requirements, I have chosen not to do so, though I will make a few comments on the variations as we proceed.

These inter-faculty exchanges of tuition revenue do not affect the Central Administration’s allocation from the TAM.

A quick review of the TAM

Last year, I wrote a detailed post about the Tuition Allocation Model (TAM), so I will give only a brief summary of it here. I will encourage the reader to look at the section on the Academic Excellence Funds in this previous blog post, however.

The TAM determines how much of the tuition revenue goes to each faculty, and how much to funds controlled by the Central Administration (`the Centre’).  It differentially treats tuition paid by domestic  (DOM) students  and tuition paid by international (ISI) students.

The Centre gets ~7.5% of gross tuition revenues off-the-top to put towards student financial aid (SFA) and to manage bad debt.

The remainder of the tuition revenues is then allocated as follows.

For DOM tuition, the Centre gets 25% and the Faculties get 75%.

For ISI tuition, there is a differential treatment for tuition fees up to a 2016 base rate and the tuition fee increment over that 2016 base rate.

For the ISI 2016 base tuition fees, the Centre gets 35% and the Faculties get 65%.

For the ISI incremental tuition above the 2016 base rate, the Centre gets 2/3 of this incremental tuition for the Academic Excellence Funds (AEF).

(Note, the key parameter I mentioned earlier is the fraction 2/3 in this part of the model.)

The remaining 1/3 of this incremental tuition is split 35% to The Centre and 65% to the Faculties.

Enrolment Forecasts 2022/23 to 2026/27

There are two key features of the overall 5-year enrolment plan for Vancouver campus:  (1) UBC will stop taking more domestic students than the BC Provincial Government funds by the end of this plan, and (2) overall international student enrolments do not grow over this 5-year period. There are significant changes in some individual faculties, however. As a consequence, UBC will leave its recent phase of enrolment growth, which may reduce some of the pressures on the faculties’ teaching missions, amongst other things.

The Normal FTE enrolment forecasts for Applied Science, Arts, and Science are in Table 1 (data from Table 2 on p. 97 of the Senate report).  One Normal FTE is 1 student taking a normal full credit load.  In Applied Science, a normal load is 37 credits, while in Arts and Science, it is 30 credits.

Faculty DOM/ISI 2022/23 2023/24 2024/25 2025/26 2026/27 5-year change 5-year %change
AppSci Domestic 3,985 4,015 4,005 3,982 3,965 -20 -0.50%
AppSci ISI 1,595 1,598 1,602 1,592 1,584 -11 -0.69%
Arts Domestic 8,486 8,199 8,026 7,928 7,890 -596 -7.02%
Arts ISI 4,226 4,123 4,037 3,981 3,956 -270 -6.39%
Science Domestic 7,155 7,067 6,976 6,916 6,887 -268 -3.75%
Science ISI 2,151 2,250 2,321 2,369 2,393 242 11.25%

Table 1.  Normal FTE enrolment forecasts 2022/23 to 2026/27.

Note that Applied Science has small reductions in both domestic and international enrolment, so is forecast to have stable enrolment over this 5-year period.

Arts, however, is forecast to have large reductions in both domestic and international student enrolment over this 5-year period. The reduction in domestic enrolment is expected given the goal of reducing enrolments to funded levels, but it is unclear to me what is driving the decision to reduce international student enrolment in Arts as well.  The Senate documents do not provide any rationale.

Science shows relatively flat enrolment over this 5-year period, but the almost one-for-one trade of domestic students for international students has a large impact on tuition revenues, as we will see later.  Again, the reduction in domestic enrolment is in keeping with the over goal to keep to funded enrolment levels.  The increase in international student enrolment will mean the percentage of international students in Science degrees will increase to 26.6%, which is still below that of Applied Science (28.9%) and Arts (32.7%) (pp. 104 and 105 of the Feb. 9th Senate docket).

Tuition Revenues over the years 2022/23 to 2026/27

As a member of the Board of Governors Finance Committee, I started this exercise to try to understand the financial impacts on the academic mission of the Vancouver 5-year enrolment forecasts. While the budget coming to the Board at the end of March is only for 2022/23, it will include significant financial commitments that will affect the university’s finances for many years to come.  It seems prudent to assess how well the faculties will fare under this enrolment plan: can UBC afford to spend on large-ticket items outside of faculties and continue to grow as a leading research and teaching institution?

To do tuition revenue calculations over a 5-year period, I have chosen to evolve tuition fee rates using the same model the Board of Governors has passed in recent years: a 2% increase in domestic tuition, a 2% increase in continuing ISI tuition, and a 4% increase in tuition for new ISI students. The Administration has not proposed any such 5-year tuition plan, but I think the assumed increases are reasonable for the exercise at hand.

First, let’s consider undergraduate programs in the Faculty of Applied Science, but excluding the School of Nursing. Table 2 has three sections: (1) basic data, (2) the TAM allocation to the faculty and its breakdown, and (2) the TAM allocation to the Centre and its breakdown.  The large growth in the ISI tuition increment over the 2016 base is noteworthy and is driven primarily by tuition rate growth in this case.  (Changes to ISI enrolment also affect this quantity, though for Applied Science, there is little change in ISI enrolment over this period.)

The overall growth in the TAM allocation to Applied Science is 7.2% over 5 years, which would be less than inflationary growth in expenses over this time period if the current rate of inflation persists. (Collective agreements are in play this year and the outcomes of these negotiations will determine substantially the inflation rate of UBC’s payroll. As well, inflation rates for many goods and services are high, which affects UBC’s purchasing power and also asserts pressure in collective bargaining.)

The tuition revenue for cross-faculty course enrolment is evenly shared by the two faculties involved. Undergraduate students in Applied Science degrees take courses in other faculties and fewer students from other faculties take courses in Applied Science, so the net inter-faculty exchange of tuition revenues is likely negative for Applied Science. 

2022/23 2026/27 % change
Gross Tuition $112,010,799 $127,670,451 14.0%
ISI Tuition differential over 2016 $16,261.25 $23,407.62 43.9%
ISI enrolment 1,595 1,584 -0.7%
DOM enrolment 3,985 3,965 -0.5%
Faculty TAM $56,461,441 $60,526,376 7.2%
Breakdown DOM $19,165,963.18 $20,755,394.61 8.3%
2016 base ISI $31,034,124.61 $30,820,096.16 -0.7%
Faculty share ISI increment over 2016 $6,261,353 $8,950,886 43.0%
Total ISI to Faculty $37,295,478 $39,770,9822 6.7%
Centre TAM $58,619,186 $68,773,938 22.3%
Breakdown DOM $6,388,654 $6,918,465 8.3%
2016 base ISI $16,710,682 $16,595,436 -0.7%
Centre share ISI increment over 2016 $3,371,498 $4,819,708 43.0%
Total ISI to Centre $20,082,180 $21,415,144 6.7%
AEF $19,557,606 $27,958,477 43.0%
Student Financial Aid (SFA) $9,520,918 $10,851,988 14.0%

Table 2.  Estimates for the tuition revenue allocation for students in undergraduate degrees in the Faculty of Applied Science, excluding the School of Nursing.

The outcome for the Faculty of Arts, captured in Table 3, is interesting due to the large charges in both domestic and international student enrolments. The TAM allocation to the faculty grows less than 1% over this 5-year period, which would be far less than the expected inflationary growth of expenses over this period. (I wrote about some of the budget pressures on faculties last year.)

Of course, Arts will receive tuition revenue from other faculties for students taking courses in the Faculty of Arts — for example, students in the BSC in Science are required to take at least 12 credits in Arts.  On the other hand, Arts students also take credits in other faculties  — for example, there are BA degree programs in Science disciplines, and the BA has a 6-credit science requirement for courses that can be taken from a number of other faculties. Tuition revenue for cross-faculty registration is split evenly by the two faculties, and while some individual departments may see large enrolments of students from other faculties, the net inter-faculty exchange of revenue may be relatively small.

2022/23 2026/27 % change
Gross Tuition $229,473,066 $246,750,129 7.5%
ISI Tuition differential over 2016 $16,261.25 $23,407.62 43.9%
ISI enrolment 4,226 3,956 -6.4%
DOM enrolment 8,486 7,890 -7.0%
Faculty TAM $113,519,610 $114,332,053 0.7%
Breakdown DOM $33,181,823 $33,578,377 1.2%
2016 base ISI $66,850,274 $62,579,197 -6.4%
Faculty share ISI increment over 2016 $13,487,513 $18,174,480 34.8%
Total ISI to faculty $80,337,787 $80,753,677 0.5%
Centre TAM $115,953,456 $132,418,075 14.2%
Breakdown DOM $11,060,608 $11,192,792 1.2%
2016 base ISI $35,996,302 $33,696,491 -6.4%
Centre share ISI increment over 2016 $7,262,507 $9,786,259 34.8%
AEF $42,128,829 $56,768,773 34.8%
Student Financial Aid (SFA) $19,505,211 $20,973,761 7.5%

Table 3. Estimates for the tuition revenue allocation for students in undergraduate degrees in the Faculty of Arts.

The situation for the Faculty of Science is shown in Table 4.  Here we see the impact of what is, in effect, a trade of domestic student seats for international student seats. (Remember that domestic enrolment is being reduced to the level actually funded by the BC Provincial Government across UBCV.) Since the ratio of the ISI tuition rate to the DOM tuition rate is ~8, this change will result in a large increase in the TAM allocation to Science over this 5-year period.

The Faculty of Science would see a 13.5% increase in the TAM allocation, which may or may not a reasonable match for the inflation rate for the faculty’s expenses given the uncertainties in predicting inflation at this time. (There are also other revenues beyond undergraduate tuition fees, of course.)

While Science students take courses in other faculties (primarily in Arts), a large number of students in other faculties take Science courses.  For example, Applied Science students take Science courses, and about 40% of the students in large enrolment MATH courses are from faculties other than Science. As with Arts, while some individual departments may see large enrolments of students from other faculties, the net inter-faculty exchange of revenue may be relatively small for Science.

2022/23 2026/27 % change
Gross Tuition $132,957,448 $162,372,114 22.1%
ISI Tuition differential over 2016 $16,261.25 $23,407.62 44.0%
ISI enrolment 2,151 2,393 11.3%
DOM enrolment 7115 6887 -3.2%
Faculty TAM $68,868,655 $78,158,012 13.5%
Breakdown DOM $27,977,368 $29,309,795 4.8%
2016 base ISI $34,026,252 $37,854,403 11.3%
Faculty share ISI increment over 2016 $6,865,036 $10,993,815 60.1%
Total ISI to faculty $40,891,287 $48,848,218 19.5%
Centre TAM $64,088,793 $84,214,102 31.4%
Breakdown DOM $9,325,789 $9,769,932 4.8%
2016 base ISI $18,321,828 $20,383,140 11.3%
Centre share ISI increment over 2016 $3,696,558 $5,919,746 60.1%
AEF $21,443,235 $34,339,655 60.1%
Student Financial Aid (SFA) $11,301,383 $13,801,630 22.1%

Table 4. Estimates for the tuition revenue allocation for students in undergraduate degrees in the Faculty of Science.

The ISI tuition increment over 2016 base and the AEF

In doing calculations using the TAM, is is clear that one of the key driving factors in the model is the size of the tuition differential relative to the 2016 base. The tuition revenue increment this generates is growing at a fast rate and the Centre is allocated 2/3 of this increment for the AEF under the current TAM.  The TAM also allocates to the Centre 35% of the remaining 1/3 of this incremental revenue.  As a result, the portion of tuition revenues allocated to the Centre by the TAM grows at a comparatively healthy rate even as individual faculties see  smaller growth rates for their overall allocations.

We are entering a period where revenue growth will be driven primarily through tuition fee rate increases without the added boost from enrolment increases. Should UBC reduce the allocation to the AEF to ensure the core academic functions of the university are well-supported, especially in the face of increased inflation and the potential for tighter university budgets?

If we were to reduce the fraction 2/3 in the model to 1/2 or even 1/3, then faculties would be in a better place to address many of their issues, including some of their academic building needs.  The AEF would still show healthy growth and be a substantial tool in the Centre’s efforts to support improvements in the university. The Centre would sill receive substantial allocations into its general fund through the rest of the allocations in the TAM.  Some of the things funded by the AEF could be funded by general funds instead, but the Centre would also need to be more discerning about what it would fund through a reduced AEF.  The Centre would do less, but the faculties would be able to do more to support the heart of the academic mission.

One of the things the AEF does is redistribute revenue to faculties with limited ability to have international students through the Revenue Sharing Fund. This seems reasonable in a university so heavily dependent on international tuition revenues that institutional decisions affecting faculties are taken with ISI revenues as a built-in assumption.  Even if one adjusts the TAM to allocate more money to the faculties (as I am suggesting), there would still be a need for such redistribution of revenue.


Mind the Vaccination Gap. Mind the Trust Gap.

(While I am one of the Vancouver faculty representatives on the UBC Board of Governors, nothing I write should be taken to represent the Board or its deliberations. Opinions, such as they are, are entirely my own. )


We are fortunate to have effective vaccines to help protect us against the worst outcomes from COVID-19.  We are also fortunate such a large percentage of Canadians are willing to get vaccinated, which helps protect them and their communities.

But, we are still working towards achieving the high vaccination rates we need to reasonably protect the population, and especially those who are unable to be effectively vaccinated, from hospitalizations for serious COVID illness or death.

Many of the questions and concerns I hear from members of the UBC community arise from the uncertainty about the vaccination status of the UBC community when thousands of students arrive on our campuses in September from across BC, Alberta, the rest of Canada, and, indeed, much of the rest of the world.  Many of these students will not have had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated before arriving at UBC, and while we know UBC and the BC Government will provide vaccines for these students, we also believe it will take time for these students to be fully vaccinated.

In addition to concerns about vaccination rates, I hear concerns in response to the current surges of the pandemic involving the highly infectious Delta variant, including in the Central Okanagan where one of UBC’s campuses is located.(*) Some, who are public scholars in relevant disciplines, suggest we should continue to support our vaccination program with other mitigations such as mask wearing to reduce the risks of serious consequences and help minimize any 4th wave here in BC.

Two of my UBC colleagues, Dr Joanna McGrenere (UBCV Computer Science) and Dr Karen Bakker (UBCV Geography) recently shared a blog post on some of their thoughts on UBC’s return-to-campus in September.  They did not present a criticism of UBC’s Administration, nor of the Public Health Officer, nor of the BC Government in presenting the recommendations in this post. Instead, they stated: “Our goal is to provide helpful, constructive suggestions to support our collegial discussions.”  Collegial discussions are the bedrock of good university governance and unstated in their post is whether we are still able to engage in collegial conversations at UBC when it comes to the University’s return-to-campus plans.

Drs McGrenere and Bakker present the notion of a “vaccination gap,” which captures the important idea there may be significant (and generally unknown) differences between the ambient rates of vaccination in the health authorities containing our two campuses and the initial rates of vaccination amongst UBC students on arrival to their campuses from across BC, across Canada, and across the globe.

They ask how this vaccination gap might affect the UBC community in September.

This simple question should be considered in decisions related to the application of the COVID-19 Return-to-Campus Guidelines university administrators in BC have been given to follow.

Around the same time my colleagues made their blog post, the AMS presented the UBC Administration and Board of Governors with a letter asking UBC to mandate vaccinations for students living in UBC student residences and to mandate masks in lecture halls.

The Administration’s first response to the letter from the AMS fell flat.

There was further correspondence from the AMS to the UBC Administration pressing student concerns about the return-to-campus plans. The AMS Vice President University and Academic Affairs has posted on Twitter the most recent response from UBC, a letter from President Ono.  The President’s letter is remarkable and I will leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions from it.

I am not an expert on COVID-19 nor on vaccination mandates, but from my conversations with colleagues engaged in such research, there seem to be two general approaches to vaccination policy: (1) make vaccines mandatory and enforce compliance, and (2) ask and campaign for community commitment and make vaccines readily available. I’m told the efficacy of each of these approaches is well-established in the literature, and choosing which is best for UBC depends on the state of willingness of our community to be vaccinated, amongst other things. The second approach is certainly the one chosen by BC’s PHO as the general approach for the province, and it is also the one described by President Ono in his latest letter to the AMS.  Neither the PHO nor UBC have provided any reasons why this approach is a reasonable one for students living in UBC’s student residences, or for the general UBC community, particularly given the potential vaccination gap, the increased virulence of the Delta variant over previous ones, and the serious and undiscussed equity and inclusion issues connected to this approach. (The background rate of infections is also a factor, of course.)

As for mask mandates, some of the aforementioned colleagues doing COVID-19 related research have suggested we start with a mask mandate for our classrooms in September and then reassess the need for it at the end of September based on available data and against some predetermined criteria, renewing the mandate until conditions allow for it to end.  Is this a good idea for UBC? Again, it seems consideration of the vaccination gap,  the impacts of the infectiousness of the Delta variant, and equity and inclusions considerations would seem relevant to this decision. (Again, the background rate of infections is also a factor.)

UBC isn’t the only university in Canada considering how to respond to such uncertainty in planning for a return-to-campus in September.

The University of Toronto, for example, is requiring all students, faculty, staff, and librarians who participate in activities with high risk of COVID transmission to be vaccinated, and they are requiring all community members to declare their vaccination status.

McGill University has also announced a set of mitigations against COVID-19 for their return-t0-campus, including mandatory masks in classrooms and vaccination requirements for participation in extracurricular activities. Some of these measures are mandated by a new plan from the Quebec government in response to concerns about the Delta variant.

There are other examples, particularly in Ontario, where universities are able to implement additional measures above the basic ones set by the provincial government. This naturally leads to questions from members of the UBC community about UBC’s return-to-campus plans and why UBC has not been permitted by the government to include additional measures related to identified high risk situations and activities in the university.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant impacts experienced by so many in the UBC community, our government is asking members of the UBC community to trust the PHO and The Guidelines set for postsecondary institutions in BC for the return-to-campus in September.

Trust is the willingness to risk being vulnerable.

Expecting the more than 80 000 UBC faculty, students, and staff to trust given the present circumstances is a lot to ask. They simply have too many unanswered questions and concerns.



(*) The surge in the Central Okanagan reached a level that triggered new orders from the PHO on August 6th placing restrictions on many activities; the PHO has not specifically spoken to how this will affect postsecondary campuses in this region, but the re-imposed restrictions on indoor gatherings will have an impact on operations at UBCO and its ability to conduct classes if this outbreak continues into September.

UBC’s Budget and Finances Part 4: Tuition (Teaching), Tuition Fees, and Tuition Fee Increases

Student tuition fees account for about one-third of UBC’s operating revenues. Students and faculty expect UBC’s teaching and learning mission to be the top priority for the use of these fees.

The 2021/22 budget (see p. 7 of the pdf) assumes revenues from tuition fees to be $984 million, which is roughly split 60% international student (ISI) tuition fees and 40% domestic student (DOM) tuition fees. The total assumes increases in the tuition fee rates for the coming year.

At its meeting on April 7th, the Finance Committee of UBC’s Board of Governors voted to recommend to the Board the Administration’s plan to increase tuition fees for 2021/22.

The tuition rate increases applied to fees paid by current students returning to UBC would add $18 million to tuition revenues if the Board agrees to them at its April 19th meeting.

Further increases in tuition revenue come from new students paying the higher rates and from an increase in enrolment for 2021/22. (I am waiting for confirmation of the amount of these increases. A new reporting rule changes the way tuition revenues appear in the budget.)

Students oppose these tuition rate increases, and the student Governors have pressed the Administration to create an affordability plan and metrics to track how well UBC is addressing students’ needs.

The lone vote against the budget on the Finance Committee was Governor Max Holmes, one of the representatives for students on the Vancouver campus. He is the only student on this committee. [1]

The Administration has stated it would not be applying the Tuition Allocation Model (TAM) to this $18 million increment in 2021/22, which means the Faculties’ would not be receiving any of this money directly through the TAM. This applies to 2021/22 only at this point.

Instead, this money will be allocated to “COVID-19 impacted student priorities”.   The AMS has submitted their priorities. (I cannot find a public document with the UBCSUO priorities.)

At the moment, most budget-related documents remain in closed Board dockets, and the current public version of the 2021/22 budget does not give full details for the intended allocation of the $18 million increment.

Faculties are responsible for absorbing inflationary costs in their budgets. This inflation is mostly due to salary increases for both faculty and staff beyond the base general wage increase (2%) funded directly by the BC Provincial Government grant.

Large faculties would absorb such cuts by using their reserves as well as revenues from any increased enrolments. Note this reduces the amount available to meet any increased teaching needs related to increased enrolments. This would also affect the faculties’ ability to support their future academic initiatives.

For some of the smaller faculties, particularly those with few programs attracting international students, sequestering the $18 million increment has the effect of imposing a cut that would further undermine their financial positions. In some cases, these faculties would likely require support to meet their basic expenses. (This support would come from the Revenue Sharing Fund discussed in Part 3 of this series.)

How might these tuition increases affect teaching and learning at UBC?

This question is less straightforward than one might think.  (One of my greatest frustrations as a Governor has been figuring out how to engage the Administration in a conversation about the financial and operational health of academic departments [2].  Their contention is the TAM is working and “all is well”. I know too many cases where the TAM is failing and all is definitely not well. I am hopeful this conversation will finally happen over the coming months.)

To begin, we consider the resources an academic department has to put towards teaching and supporting students in its programs.

Consider the operating budget of an academic department I will call Department Q. Department Q’s operating budget does not include research grant revenues and the related research expenditures.  Department Q’s teaching does not involve wet labs, clinical labs, studio work, etc.

Suppose Department Q’s (lean) budget of $10 million [3] is allocated as follows:

  1. 85% to faculty (tenure-track and contract) salaries and benefits,
  2. 7% to staff salaries and benefits,
  3. 6% to student teaching assistants (UTAs and GTAs), and
  4. 2% to non-salary expenses.

Like most UBC academic departments, Department Q is teaching at full capacity, which means increases in enrolment would result in increased teaching loads for existing faculty or hiring more contract faculty on a per course basis. (There is no known threshold for increased teaching that would trigger hiring new tenure-track faculty for Department Q.)

The inflationary costs for Department Q are primarily wage increases:  2% GWI + 2.5% PTR for faculty; 2% GWI + 1% merit for staff; and 2% GWI for student teaching assistants.   Thus, Department Q needs an extra $400 thousand, or 4%, added to its budget.

About half of this is provided by Central passing on the government guaranteed 2% GWI to faculties (from the BC Government grant). The remaining $200 thousand needs to come from tuition revenue. Department Q is in a faculty where the Dean allocates this needed $200 thousand to the department. (Not all faculties work this way, so some departments would have to make cuts, meaning fewer TAs, fewer staff, or fewer faculty.)

In theory, tuition increases would result in more resources for Department Q (and other departments)  to put towards its teaching mission. In practice, not so much.

Because the plan for 2021/22 is to sequester the faculties’ share of the $18 million increment (far less than $18 million, by the way), the dean of Department Q’s faculty would need to rely on new tuition revenue or faculty reserves to fund increases to salaries and benefits.

My back-of-the-envelope calculations tell me the effects for faculties of sequestering the $18 million tuition increment would be mitigated for many faculties in 2021/22 by increased tuition revenues from new students, to which the TAM applies.

(Even without the proposed tuition increases, increased enrolment of new students seems likely to be sufficient to cover the basic inflationary costs for many faculties for  2021/22. )

Are we forcing faculties to rely too much on increasing enrolments in their budget models?

Faculty budgets already rely on increasing enrolment as an important mechanism to manage inflationary costs and to build capacity to fund faculty-level initiatives and capital projects.

While the Administration speaks of flattening enrolments in the near term, there is still a background rate of increase of about 2% that is partly driven by the way UBC admits students. Some deans also speak of much higher rates of increase for enrolment as a key source of new funding.

Given UBC has almost $1 billion in tuition revenue, we should be able to provide our students with the kind of top-tier educational experience they are expecting from us.

I am concerned the current TAM is diverting too much of this revenue to the Academic Excellence Funds (not all of which are for academic purposes), leaving some deans looking for new sources of revenue for their faculties.  Enrolment increases are the easiest way to increase revenue. (The TAM uses a 2016 baseline, which unfortunately means many more new students are needed to get significant new revenue in a faculty this way.)

This drive to increase enrolments also adds further stress to departments (like Department Q) already struggling to maintain their high quality programs with limited faculty resources.

Thus, diverting so much revenue from faculties and their academic departments creates and sustains financial and operational stresses in UBC’s teaching and learning mission. (These stresses are on top of unresolved problems from UBC’s previous decade of unmanaged enrolment growth.)  Even with some of this money returned to faculties through central initiatives, the restrictions on such funding usually mean it cannot be used to address many long-standing problems.

(Centrally supported, research-based faculty hiring programs are important as well, but our current ones are not sufficient to address the broad faculty hiring in academic departments needed to also alleviate stresses in our teaching and learning mission.)

Should UBC increase tuition rates for 2021/22?

UBC is presenting a balanced budget for 2021/22. It is drawing a relatively small amount from its reserves to do this, but, unlike many public universities in the world, UBC is in a strong financial position.

The 2021/22 budget also includes significant expenditures for a number of new and on-going initiatives and capital projects. (The public version of the budget does not give many details for these.)

This is not an austerity budget.

I am moved by students’ arguments against increases this year: There have been many pandemic-related effects on UBC students and on what we have been able to offer them, and these effects deserve to be weighed in our decision. Should we not acknowledge this financially, at least for current students who are returning for 2021/22?

I also believe our current model for allocating tuition does not support academic departments and their teaching and learning missions as well as it should. This needs to change.

All in all, it seems hard to justify asking students to pay higher tuition fees until we can guarantee they will get the educational experience they expect from UBC.


[1] There are no faculty Governors on the Finance Committee at this time, though its current chair engages with the faculty Governors regularly. This situation is under discussion.

[2] I use “academic department” to refer to the basic organizational unit for faculty in UBC; not all such units hold the status of “department”, formally speaking.

[3] I’ve chosen to scale Department Q’s budget to $10 million.

UBC’s Budget and Finances Part 3: The Tuition Allocation Model (TAM) and its Consequences

Preamble: I intended to publish this post last week, but my inner mathematician was still wrestling with some of the details of UBC’s Tuition Allocation Model and its relationship to the budget. As it happened, PAIR posted the 2020W enrolment data this week, which allowed me to replace my (very close) enrolment estimates with real data and recompute the TAM outcomes. In spite of these new calculations, there are still some puzzles remaining arising from unexpected discrepancies between my calculations and numbers reported in the 2020/21 budget and elsewhere. One of these puzzles is the size of the ISI tuition allocation to the Academic Excellence Fund (AEF). I expect to solve these puzzles, most likely with expert help from the Administration. 

UBC collected well over $900 million in tuition fees from students this year, 60% of this from international students. UBC has an obligation to use students’ tuition fees foremost to ensure the faculties and academic departments are able to deliver on the university’s  commitment to provide students with access to academic programs and educational experiences one expects to find at a leading research university. (This necessitates UBC using its considerable resources to support its core academic research mission, as well.)

In terms of UBC’s budget, the way tuition revenue is distributed in the university should reflect this obligation to put the academic mission ahead of all other considerations in deciding how to spend tuition fees.

UBC encodes its priorities for spending tuition revenue in its Tuition Allocation Model (TAM), which is then used as the mechanism for determining for each faculty its share of the tuition fees paid by students registered in courses in that faculty. UBC’s TAM also allocates tuition revenues to the central administration and to “excellence funds” controlled by the central administration. (More on these funds later.)

On the face of it, the TAM is formulaic and the allocations it produces thus seem predictable, which is a good feature for those managing budgets and analyzing the financial effects of decisions that affect enrolment.

The basic description of the model is fairly simple, though there are (unnecessary?) complexities in the detailed version.

(I would provide the reader with a link to a document describing the TAM, but I have not found a public version of one. Bits of commentary on the TAM are scattered in public budget documents, but not coherently. I knew the basics of the TAM before joining the Board of Governors through conversations with administrators, and so I am assuming what I say about it to be in the public domain.)

As with all such mathematical models, one must study the TAM’s outcomes to learn how it works, which is necessary to decide whether the TAM produces results that align with the University’s principles, values, and goals — all things that should have influenced the implementation of the model. After all, the budget should tell the same stories UBC tells about who we are and how we are achieving our goals so we and others can assess the outcomes through the stories the budget produces throughout our faculties and academic departments.

Thus, the TAM is far more than an algorithm.

Behind the mathematics of the TAM are the policies and managerial approaches the Administration uses to implement its vision of how UBC should operate.

Thus, a consideration of the TAM includes asking the question ‘Do the policies and managerial approaches used to code the TAM produce outcomes that support the academic mission as the central purpose of the University?’

Before we can dive into such questions, I need to tell you how the model works. I will start with a description of how to compute the tuition allocations and then give an example for a faculty I will call Faculty X. I will focus on the revenue from undergraduate tuition fees.

I am aware most of my readers aren’t mathematicians, and will try to keep that in mind in what follows.

A Description of the TAM

UBC’s Tuition Allocation Model has the same basic set-up for both the Vancouver and Okanagan, though there are some differences in the way revenue is split between the faculties and the central administration (often shortened to “Central” in budget and finance documents).  This reflects the different operating and financial contexts for each campus.

In the detailed model, there are also variations for tuition fees from COOP students on work terms, exchange students, and non-degree students, etc. I will ignore these and focus on fees for undergraduate students in degree programs.

It is important to note UBC budgets many of the “system-wide” activities through the Vancouver budget, so “Central” in what follows sometimes refers to this Vancouver+System part of the budget and sometimes to the part specific to Vancouver; context should make this clear. I will use “Okanagan Central” for the Okanagan-specific central administration, and note there are chargebacks from Okanagan Central to Central, which I won’t discuss in this post.

The TAM also treats domestic student (DOM) tuition fees and international student (ISI) tuition fees differently.

In my calculations, I use enrolment data from PAIR (you need to be on campus or have a UBC VPN to access these data online), and I make various approximations based on public data when I do not have access to real data or when data are not public. Keep in mind this contributes to small uncertainties in any numbers I present here. (These uncertainties are  of a different nature than the unexpected discrepancies I mention in the Preamble.)

Now, the TAM.

1. A portion of all tuition revenue is committed to student financial aid (SFA).  Currently this is 7.5%.

2. A portion of all tuition revenue goes to overhead such as bad debt.  Currently this is just over 1%. (I only know the actual figure from a Board document, but the 1% figure is commonly used by those speaking publicly about the TAM.)

After these amounts are taken off the top, the remaining tuition revenue is then allocated to the faculties and Central/Okanagan Central, including their “excellence funds”.

3a. DOM tuition in Vancouver is split 75% to the faculties and 25% to Central.  For a student in Faculty A taking a course in Faculty B, the faculty tuition revenue is split 50:50 between the two faculties.

3b. DOM tuition in the Okanagan is split 60% to the faculties and 40% to Okanagan Central.  (Many services managed by individual faculties in Vancouver are managed centrally in the Okanagan.) For a student in Faculty A taking a course in Faculty B, all the faculty tuition revenue would go to Faculty B.

Things start to get interesting when we look at ISI tuition revenue, so I hope I haven’t lost you so far.

4. For ISI tuition revenue, the TAM uses 2016/17 as a baseline for calculating the allocations. This means each faculty is guaranteed to receive a base of ISI tuition revenue equal to that based on 2016/17 fees.

In 2016/17, ISI tuition revenue (after the amounts in 1 and 2 above are taken out) was allocated as follows:  in Vancouver, 65% to the faculties and 35% to Central, and in the Okanagan, 50% to the faculties and 50% to Okanagan Central. This provides the base component of the current-year allocations.

5. The TAM then proceeds to allocate the incremental ISI tuition revenue from the current budget year over 2016/17, which is calculated by taking the current year’s ISI tuition revenue and subtracting an amount equal to the the revenue based on 2016/17 ISI tuition fees. This incremental ISI tuition revenue amount is large as tuition fees have grown significantly since 2016, as has enrolment.

How is the incremental ISI tuition above the 2016/17 baseline distributed?

Two-thirds of this incremental ISI tuition revenue is put into the Academic Excellence Funds (AEF) in Vancouver and the Excellent Funds (EF) in the Okanagan.

(We will talk more about the AEF a bit later as it is an important part of the story.)

The remaining one-third of this incremental ISI tuition amount is then allocated in the “usual way”: (Vancouver) 65% to the faculties and 35% to Central, and (Okanagan) 50% to the faculties and 50% to Okanagan Central.

Before I present how this works for Faculty X, I will note that because the TAM uses 2016/17 as a baseline for distributing ISI tuition revenue, the amount of money flowing to the AEF and EF grows as the ISI tuition revenue increases, both through tuition rate increases and ISI enrolment increases.

We are (potentially) nearing a point of relatively constant enrolment (or at least that is inferred from the enrolment plans the Administration has presented to the Senates , p. 94ff), so the rate of growth of this increment should slow down.  However, the annual ISI increment will continue to be a large percentage of the total ISI tuition revenue, and the increment will also grow at some rate of inflation (determine mostly by tuition rate increases).

Using 2016/17 as a baseline for our incremental budgeting means faculties and academic departments are receiving baseline funding relative to a year prior to UBC’s most recent growth spurt in international student enrolment.  It also assumes the faculties and academic departments in 2016/17 were in a state of good general operational and financial health. There is evidence this assumption should be questioned.

Since 2016/17, overall enrolment at UBC has grown about 16%, mostly through increased numbers of international undergraduate students.  As I discussed in my last post, the faculty complement has grown at a much, much slower rate. This is on top of similar growth in enrolment over the previous 5 years and little growth in the faculty complement. UBC undergraduate enrolment has grown 32% since 2011. This has an impact on the ability of academic programs to meet students expectations about their academic experiences at UBC, and affects students’ access to highly demanded programs and courses.

An Example:  The TAM Outcomes for Faculty X

Faculty X on the Vancouver campus has a large undergraduate enrolment in its programs and courses.  Let’s assume Faculty X has a little over 10 thousand undergraduate students enrolled in its courses.  About 60% of the students it teaches are in Faculty X; the rest are in other faculties. About 26% of the students it teaches are international students.

The total tuition fees associated with undergraduate students in Faculty X is $146.1 million. From this the TAM deducts 7.5% ($11 million) for students financial aid. A further 1% ($1.46 million) is deducted for overhead.

The leaves $133.7 million to be allocated to the faculties and Central (including the AEF).

The TAM then allocates $22.7 million to Faculty X and $5.3 million to other faculties from $37.3 million in DOM tuition fees.  This leaves $9.3 million for Central. Up to rounding, this gives the 75:25 split between faculties and Central.

This leaves $96.5 million in ISI tuition fees to allocate.

The next step in the TAM is to allocate two-thirds of the incremental ISI tuition revenue relative to the 2016/17 ISI tuition revenue.

For tuition revenues connected to courses taught in Faculty X, this increment is $96.5 million minus $52.9 million, which gives $43.6 million.

Thus, the AEF is allocated 2/3 of $43.6 million, which is $29.1 million. This is 30.2% of the total ISI tuition revenue available.

The other 1/3 of this $43.6 million, which is $14.5 million, is added to the 2016/17 base of $52.9 million. This means $67.4 million of the original $96.5 million ISI tuition revenue is allocated 65:35 to the faculties ($43.8 million) and Central ($23.6 million).

Faculty X must now share this $43.8 million with other faculties.  In the end, Faculty X gets $34.5 million and the other faculties get $9.3 million.

Thus, Faculty X  receives $34.5 million out of $96.5 million from the ISI tuition revenue for courses it teaches.  That is 35.8%.  Other faculties receive a further 9.6% of the original $96.5 million. Altogether, the faculties receive 45.4% of the total ISI tuition revenue.

And Central receives $52.6 million, with $29.1 million in the AEF and $23.6 million in its general revenues. This is 54.6% of the original $96.5 million of ISI tuition revenue.

So, how much tuition revenue do Faculty X and Central each receive in total through the TAM?

Faculty X gets $22.7 million from DOM tuition fees and $34.5 million from ISI tuition fees for a total of $57.4 million. This is 42.9% of the total tuition revenue available, $133.7 million.

Central gets $9.3 million from DOM tuition fees and $52.6 million from ISI tuition fees for a total of $61.9 million.  This is 46.3% of the total tuition revenue available, $133.7 million.

For comparison, prior to the implementation of the AEF, Central would have received $43.1 million, leaving the faculties $90.6 million, of which Faculty X would have received $71.3 million.

Added note: I have applied the TAM to the tuition revenue associated with courses taught in Faculty X. Faculty X also receives a portion of the tuition fees for students from Faculty X taking courses in other faculties (remember the faculties split tuition 50:50 for these students).  I calculate this to be $6.9 million, which brings the total tuition revenue Faculty X receives to $64.3 million. (There is no adjustment to the above AEF amounts for Faculty X because the AEF is allocated money before the ISI tuition revenues are split between the faculties and Central.)

What does the TAM mean for faculties and their academic departments?

How do we decide if the outcomes from the TAM for faculties align with the University’s (ambitious) goals for its academic mission, especially its teaching mission given this money comes directly from our students?

Academic departments do the teaching, so any analysis could begin by examining the state of the financial and operational health of the individual programs in Faculty X and the reasons a program is in the state it is. Such analysis should consider how well a program is able to meet the demands on it, including its ability to offer a diverse set of courses with sufficient enrolment capacity to meet demand from students.

It is possible to apply the TAM to each academic department in a faculty so we would see how their teaching contributes to the overall faculty tuition revenue (and I have done so for Faculty X). While this would provide us with some information to help assess the financial and operational health of each department, on its own, this information may not be sufficient to answer many of the basic questions we might ask.

Why is this so?

The TAM allocates tuition to faculties, but after that, it is up to the faculty’s dean to decide how to allocate tuition revenue to the academic departments. While some faculties implement a faculty-level tuition allocation model similar to the university-wide TAM flowing tuition revenue to each department depending on their enrolments of domestic and international students, others do not do this.

In fact, the failure to implement a faculty-level TAM can (and does) have the effect of creating at-risk academic departments where enrolment growth does not attract sufficient new resources to meet the new demands on an academic department’s teaching mission. (Students’ needs are not met as a result.)

Faculty X does not have a faculty-level tuition allocation model, and so has several departments at high risk with respect to their teaching missions because problems created by past decisions about funding these departments continue in spite of greatly increased tuition revenues to Faculty X. (There are at-risk academic departments in other faculties similarly in jeopardy when it comes to their teaching missions.)

The failure of the TAM to include a component of the model to allocate tuition revenues to academic departments is a serious flaw in the tuition allocation exercise at UBC. It is equivalent to allowing the Central Administration to allocate tuition revenue to the faculties without any regard for the teaching done by these faculties (some might say “on a whim”). Would any dean whose faculty is adversely affected by this accept such a state of affairs?

What about the AEF and its impact on academic departments?

The Vancouver-based Academic Excellence Funds (AEF) were originally created as the Strategic Investment Funds in 2016 to support UBC’s “excellence” goals and the desire for UBC to become Canada’s best university by 2026.

In 2018, the AEF terms of reference were changed in 2018 to create five funds:

  1. Strategic Fund,
  2. Revenue Sharing Fund,
  3. Academic Capital Fund,
  4. Student Financial Aid (SFA) Fund, and
  5. Integrated Renewal Project (IRP) Fund.

The April version of the 2020/21 budget document and the 2019/20 budget document each have some information about the intended allocations from the AEF for those years. Unless you know the project details, it may not be clear when money from the AEF has gone to faculties and academic departments directly, particularly with respect to their teaching mission.

There are AEF  allocations for central projects related to the research mission — e.g. for the Clusters of  Research Excellence program and for the Advanced Research Computing (ARC) project. These do not include unrestricted, on-going funds for academic departments, however.

There is also support for research students; e.g. the PAEI is supporting UBC’s increase in the minimum funding for PhD students.

What about support for hiring faculty?

The Strategic Fund is supporting the President’s Academic Excellence Initiative (PAEI), which includes a competitive research hiring program focusing on themes identified by each faculty. (I have not found a public document describing the PAEI in detail.)  One hundred faculty members will be hired through the PAEI Accelerate Phase, 84 in Vancouver and 16 in the Okanagan, over the next 5 years, say (there are some pandemic delays).  There will be a second phase (details not yet public). The PAEI is one of the few long-term commitments from the AEF, and for Vancouver, about $13.5 million recurring will support these positions (faculties contribute to the recurring salary costs as well; currently the rate is 20%).

It is exciting to have opportunities to hire new faculty, but the PAEI is not intended to address the kinds of teaching capacity issues that characterize at-risk academic departments. The allocation of positions, only a few to each faculty, are made on a research basis and are intended to be add-ons to the larger hiring plans of the faculties. This implies the faculties themselves are intended to manage, on their own, the risks associated with academic departments whose academic missions at risk because of their current financial situations.

(I am focusing on the Vancouver AEF, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Okanagan EF, which has a strong overall focus on the academic mission, in my opinion. For example, the EF funds a program to provide bridging funding to support the diversification of the faculty by hiring BIPOC faculty.)

The Revenue Sharing Fund is similar to funds at other universities and is designed to support faculties unable to meet their commitments to their programs given their precarious financial state. These faculties often have limited opportunities to enrol international students. Smaller faculties can also be unstable because even relatively small changes in their enrolments can put them into a deficit situation. Allocations from the Revenue Sharing fund often provide salary support over a few years so the faculty can work to stabilize its position. This fund is a residual fund (last in the queue for its share of the AEF) not designed to fund long-term faculty positions.

The Academic Capital Fund makes contributions to capital funding for academic buildings. The amounts are small at this point (~$5m). In theory, other small capital projects related to research or teaching could be supported by this fund.

The SFA Fund simply pools its money with the rest of the SFA allocation, though it could be used for targeted scholarships, bursaries, and other forms of student financial support.  For example, some student members of the Black Caucus presented to the Board of Governors in February and requested scholarships and research funding for Black students.

I am perplexed by the inclusion of the IRP Fund as an “academic excellence” fund.

Is the AEF the right tool for UBC to achieve our “academic excellence” goals?

Whatever “academic excellence” means for a university, I am certain its meaning is deeply connected to the work of the university’s faculty.  Achieving “academic excellence” goals thus starts with hiring and retaining faculty members whose creativity, intellectual capacity, and commitment to their academic work are likely to lead them to great achievements in research and teaching, and then making sure they are well-supported by UBC.

Given this premise, and given the main contribution of the AEF to faculty hiring is through the PAEI, if the PAEI is to act in a supporting role in faculty hiring plans instead of a main contributor to them, as it seems to be designed to do, then the faculties must be given more resources to fund hiring plans that really can enable academic departments to build the teaching and research capacity needed for UBC to keep its promises to students and to fulfill its ambitions as a research university.

(There is, of course, value to having some central funds to enable responsiveness to novel or changing contexts for the academic mission. And there is great value in a system in which whether or not a faculty or academic department has the ability to generate tuition revenue from international student fees  creates large inequities to have a mechanism to redistribute money to address these inequities.)

Faculties also have academic capital needs to support its faculty and students. Many faculties need updated or new academic space. The current model for funding a new academic buildings at UBC requires the faculty to contribute to the cost. The AEF’s Academic Capital Fund will only be able to support a small number of projects, which limits its effect.

I believe UBC would better achieve its “academic excellence goals” if it put more unrestricted money into its faculties and their academic departments — right at the heart of UBC’s research and teaching activities. Faculties would then make decisions about how to allocate such money to best achieve their “academic excellence goals”. Faculties would also have more predictability about the resources they will have to reach their goals, which would allow for longer term planning with more certainty.

The Administration (and the Board of Governors) would need to trust the faculty and their collective expertise in this vision of UBC.

It is time for a review of the TAM (and hence, the excellence funds, too) to decide if it supports UBC’s core academic mission in keeping with the University’s principles, values, and goals.


Caveat: The exercise of running the TAM using real data for a faculty left me with as many questions as answers about what I see in budget documents. Budgets are not balance sheets and UBC’s financial reports are not “the books.”  This can make it difficult to reconcile information in the budget. UBC’s incremental budgeting adds to the difficulty of tracking the evolution of key budget entities, like the AEF.

I have, for example, calculated an estimate for the total amount of tuition revenue added to the AEF for 2020/21. It differs greatly from what is reported in the budget, creating a puzzle I’m likely to obsess over.  Commitments to funds often run over multiple years, which can affect the amount available to use in any given year. I cannot tell such accounting details from the budgets and other documents available to me.

UBC’s Budget and Finances Part 2: Faculty Salaries and Benefits

As a child, I took an early interest in mathematical puzzles and was given at some point a copy of Henry Dudeney‘s Amusements in Mathematics. I spent many happy hours (and a few frustrating ones) working my way through Dudeney’s puzzles, which were as much about clear thinking and logic as anything else. For some reason, I have been thinking about my childhood obsession with such puzzles as I have been working to understand how UBC treats faculty salaries in the budget, both financially and philosophically.

Salary and benefits costs for tenure-track faculty, in particular, are sometimes presented as problematic in conversations about university budgets, as if dealing with them is a difficult and tricky puzzle as yet unsolved.  Certainly tenure-track faculty are generally well-paid and hiring one creates a 35+-year commitment.  As well, the “faculty salary mass” (total salaries + benefits) is one of the largest financial commitments for any university.

Of course, one might also view this faculty salary mass as one of the largest and most important investments made by a university given the academic mission is built around the work of the faculty. Even if one takes a cold financial viewpoint, the major sources of revenue for UBC — tuition fees and provincial government grants — are tied to the work done by the faculty. For 2020/21, tuition revenues are close to the $943 million predicted in the April 2020 version of the budget.  The BC government grant is $732 million, which was guaranteed by the BC Provincial Government as part of its support for UBC during the pandemic. In total, this is $1.675 billion, which is about 75% of UBC’s operating revenues this year.

Research grants, also connected to faculty work, account for a further $650 million per year, but this money is not part of UBC’s general operating revenue given the restricted uses of these funds.  However, the effect of these grants is captured in the consolidated budget as a result of grant-funded salaries, for example.

Thus, it is important to understand the faculty salary mass and how it evolves to understand the UBC budget story.

Note about 2020/21 budget data: I am using information from the two versions of the 2020/21 budget.  The July 2020 version of the budget passed by the Board of Governors is very conservative, as it needed to be, and predicted a massive drop in tuition revenue that did not materialize. The July 2020 version also lacks the level of detail of the April 2020 version, and the latter provides better insight into many matters that affect questions around faculty hiring and salaries.

The Faculty Salary Mass

Before the 2020/21 budget, faculty salaries and benefits were not reported as separate line items UBC’s budget or its financial statements.  Even the public consolidated financial reports have only recently started to report information about faculty salaries beyond the reports on aggregated salaries and benefits for all employees of the University.

The 2020/21 budget  reports academic salaries as a separate line item (p. 10 of the linked pdf, Salaries – Academic under Operating Expenses):  $537 million.  Note this July 2020 budget reports a potential reduction due to  COVID of $3 million relative to the pre-COVID April 2020 budget, which reports an expected $540 million for academic salaries. The cost of benefits adds 18% to this (benefits are only recorded in aggregate in the budget).

About 88% of the reported academic salaries and benefits costs are for faculty appointed in the various Faculties; librarian and archivist salaries are under the Vancouver VP Academic and Provost budget.

This means the Faculties’ budgets include $473 million x 1.18 = $558 million for faculty salaries and benefits.

This $558 million estimate uses the assumption most of the planned faculty hiring in the April version of the 2020/21 budget is happening, which is a reasonable assumption based on the minor change in the budget line for faculty salaries in the July 2020 budget relative to the pre-COVID April 2020 budget.

Some comparators to put in context the size of UBC’s faculty salary mass:

(1) SFU’s operating revenues for 2020/21 (p. 18 of the pdf) are ~$596 million and SFU has about 30 thousand students;

(2) UVic’s operating budget for 2020/21 is $424 million and UVic has about 22 thousand students; and

(3) UBC’s increase in the total revenues from tuition fees and the BC Government grant between 2016/17 and 2020/21 is ~$554 million.

Finally, UBC’s overall operating revenues for 2020/21 are $2.2 billion, lower than expected because of lower revenues from ancillary operations such as food services, parking, and student housing. UBC’s operating expenses for salaries and benefits overall are $1.41 billion.

Growth of the Faculty Salary Mass Through Salary Increases

Inflation is an important factor for the UBC Administration to consider in managing the university. The growth of the faculty salary mass through salary increases is incorporated into the long-term financial model for the university.

Faculty salaries increase at UBC through general increases and career progress increases (CPI, merit, and PSA). In the current faculty collective agreement general increases have been set at 2% each year, and the remaining increases total to 2.5% (1.25$ CPI, 0.75% merit, 0.50% PSA) of the total of continuing bargaining unit member salaries.

At first glance, UBC’s faculty compensation model may appear to result in an annual growth rate of 4.5% for the faculty salary mass, assuming a constant faculty complement. The real growth rate under this condition is less than 4%, however.

Analyzing the faculty salary mass over time is non-trivial since there are dynamics at play that change the actual composition of the faculty over time. Even assuming a constant number of faculty (often done in basic budget models), new faculty are hired and other faculty leave (e.g. change jobs, retire). To build a reasonable model of the faculty salary mass, it is sufficient to work with a model that averages over these dynamics.

A newly hired assistant professor normally has a lower salary than a retiring full professor.  This generates savings that lower the annual growth rate for the faculty salary mass from 4.5% per annum.  While this rate varies a bit from year to year, I estimate its current value to be between 3.5% and 4%, so let’s use 3.75% going forward.

Currently, the 2% per annum general salary increases for faculty are funded by the BC Government in keeping with the PSEC mandate.   This leaves 1.75% UBC must fund from its operating revenues. Although UBC has generally had operating surpluses in recent years, the Administration has typically put forward tuition increases to grow the University’s revenues; they are proposing a tuition increase proposal for 2021/22, as well. Either way, these increases are fully funded by UBC’s operating revenues and are included in the budget. (Oddly, the Administration often refers to “unfunded” salary increases when, in fact, such increases are fully funded by the core sources of operating revenue for the University.)

Growth of the Faculty Complement

To understand the financial and budget impacts of the faculty salary mass, one needs also to study the affects of the growth rate of the faculty complement.

The Board of Governors received a report in June 2019 that included an analysis of the growth rates of the faculty complement compared to those of student enrolment and and staff hiring.

For the Vancouver campus, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for faculty in the 10-year reporting period 2008 to 2018 was about 0.35%, while for students it was about 2.4%. If we look at only research faculty, the CAGR was -0.24% (a decline).

For the Okanagan campus, the reporting period covers the planned ramp-up in domestic student enrolment after the campus was created and the CAGR for student enrolment is about 5%. The reported CAGR for faculty is about 2.4%, but for research faculty, it is about 0.1%.

(There is a story about the impact the differences in these rates has on the academic mission, but I will leave that for a future blog.)

The analysis in the 2019 report uses data for 2008 to 2018.  If we include data (obtained from PAIR, say) for 2019 and 2020, and look at the 5-year period starting in 2016 (the lifetime of the current administration), then we see that student enrolment has a CAGR about 3.4% and the faculty complement a CAGR around 0.8%.

From these numbers, we see that the growth of the faculty complement has been far out-paced by the growth of student enrolment, resulting in increasing FTE student to FTE faculty ratios. (The annual averages of these ratios are reported in the 2019 report to the Board, but the failure to report the distribution of student to faculty ratios across academic departments hides serious problems.) Much of the growth in student enrolment is due to international students, whose tuition fees are the main reason UBC’s operating revenues have increased so much over the past five years (about $400 million of the $554 million increase).

Thus, the growth of UBC’s faculty salary mass due to increases in the faculty complement is a small fraction of the increases tuition revenues due to increases in student enrolment. Factor in increases in tuition fees, and this fraction is even smaller.

So, why is the growth rate of the faculty complement so low?

My first answer is “I can’t solve this puzzle.” Or maybe, “it defies logic.”

There has certainly been some faculty hiring, but the rate is very low and has been so for a long time in spite of large increases in enrolment and large increases in operating revenues.

There are pieces of descriptions of Deans’ hiring plans dispersed throughout the April 2020 version of the budget, but they are not collated into one overarching UBC faculty hiring plan. Indeed, it is not clear all the pieces needed to build a picture of faculty hiring at UBC are included in the budget. (Does UBC have a faculty hiring plan?)

Some Deans have committed to replace faculty who have retired or resigned. Some additional hiring looks to be based on transfers from the Academic Excellence Funds — both transfers from the President’s Academic Excellence Initiative (PAEI) and transfers from the Revenue Sharing Fund to faculties without potential for growing undergraduate international student enrolment (e.g. Education, Law, Medicine). The Research Excellence Clusters initiative seems to be a key focus for some of this hiring, though the funding for these faculty positions comes from the a combination of PAEI funds, Revenue Sharing Funds, and the operating funds for the Faculties.

Beyond this, the 2020/21 budget provides no targeted money to address the large and growing teaching deficits in many of UBC’s academic departments. These deficits are a consequence of the continuing growth in enrolment coupled with a limited faculty hiring to meet the needs of the increasing numbers of students. (The result is erosion in the academic experiences many programs are able to offer students.)

One decision restricting the University to this low rate of faculty hiring is the re-organization of the Academic Excellence Fund the Board of Governors approved in 2019/20. This has resulted in significant amounts of tuition revenue being directed away from the core academic mission of the University to other ventures and activities (e.g. Workday).  I argue this leaves the Faculties (and their Deans) with insufficient resources to solve serious entrenched problems undermining the teaching and research missions of UBC’s academic departments.



(I have restricted myself to using publicly available data in my analyses.

For those who might do their own data analysis, caution is needed when working with UBC data. For example, there are discrepancies between the data reported to the Board in the 2019 report I reference and the data reported publicly by PAIR.  I have also noted discrepancies with other data sets I have. Getting clean data on UBC’s faculty complement is particularly difficult.  Perhaps Workday will help with this.)


One view from the Board: UBC’s Budget and Finances Part 1

UBC’s 2021/22 budget will come to the Board of Governors for approval in April.

I have yet to see a draft of this budget.

The 2021/22 budget is likely to be one of President Ono’s most important budgets. It needs to help UBC emerge from the pandemic with minimal negative impact on the academic mission (certainly possible). It will also constrain UBC’s future for the next decade by locking resources to fund several large-scale strategic initiatives and other projects.

Ideally, this budget would also start to address some of the longstanding problems affecting UBC’s frontline academic departments and the students they teach, but I am not convinced we will see any substantial funding commitments to this end.

Against the backdrop of a pandemic, there is the likelihood of a modest budget deficit, as pre-approved by the BC Provincial Government. I do not think this implies we will have an “austerity” budget, though an overall budget deficit would still affect all units, including academic ones.

For 2020/21, the initial consolidated budget deficit estimate was $225 million in July 2020. This was based heavily on two key factors: (1) a postulated $138 million drop in tuition revenues, and (2) an expected $208 million drop in other revenues (primarily from ancillary operations).

Instead of a drop in enrolment, however, 2020S and 2020W registration levels (pp. 94ff)  are at pre-COVID-19 targets for 2020/21 or higher.  This will mean a substantially smaller deficit for the 2020/21 fiscal year than predicted.

UBC  Student Housing and Community Services (SHCS) laid off temporarily about 350 workers at the end of November 2020 in response to its expected $80 million deficit. As well, more students opted to live in SHCS housing starting in January.  As a result, we should see a reduced SHCS deficit.

Thus, one can reasonably say there will be a much smaller deficit for 2020/21 than the $225 million one anticipated in July 2020. The public version of the mid-year financial review given to the Board of Governors Finance Committee in late November 2020 gives no updated estimate on the deficit, but it was verbally reported in this open session (starting around minute 25:45:00) the consolidated budget deficit had shrunk to $100 million. (Unfortunately, this mid-year financial review document does not include any numerical financial data.) I expect the final deficit figure to be even smaller than this.

In spite of a possible budget deficit for 2021/22, it is reasonable to imagine a near-term return to modest budget surpluses, so I expect funding requests for a number of large new or continuing initiatives and capital projects to be included in the proposed 2021/22 budget.

That said, I also expect to see some on-going financial impacts of the pandemic in UBC budgets for the next two or three years.

As a Governor, I have an “insider” set of expectations for what we will see in the 2021/22 budget based on what has been introduced to the Board this past year, mostly in closed sessions (and hence I cannot talk about them publicly yet), but I will be honest with my readers and say the “insider” look-see is less revealing than they might expect.

Based on my experiences on the Board to date, I wonder if Governors will receive sufficient financial information and be given ample time to study and ask questions about major proposals so we may properly assess the associated spending requests in the budget. Questions like ‘Are the costs reasonable?’ ‘How are we funding this?’ ‘What are the financial timelines for this proposal and how will this constrain future expenditures?’ ‘How does this proposal fit into the overall picture?’ sometimes seem to go unanswered, at least from this mathematician’s perspective (I really like numbers).

This is concerning to me.

As is the resistance Governors (particularly elected Governors) meet when raising questions about the financial and operational health of the University’s core academic mission, questions which are best considered by looking at how well the faculties and their academic departments and programs are faring. Too often the message seems to be “all is well” when there is evidence to say otherwise.  It is perplexing to me the Administration chooses to ignore questions that go to the heart of the educational experience UBC is able to offer its students (and to whether a tuition increase is justified).

For some time now, I have been studying financial and budget documents from the past 5 years, as well as other data I am able to mine from public sources, in order to build a better understanding of the University’s finances and budget dynamics. Some of the fundamental questions I have, including those related to the flows of money and to the financing of some large-cost items, remain unanswered even after this study. (I will resist going off on a tangent about the situation Laurentian University finds itself in and what it takes for a board to discharge its fiduciary duty with respect to a university’s finances.)

I worry such financial questions Governors will have about an as-yet-unseen budget may not be answered satisfactorily before we are asked to vote on the 2021/22 budget. It takes time to absorb and understand the complexities of a university budget, and it takes time for the exchanges between the Board and the Administration necessary to leave Governors comfortable they are able to fulfill their fiduciary duty with respect to the university budget. I will be weighing  this heavily in the calculus of my fiduciary duty to the University when it comes time to vote on the budget.


Over the next few weeks, I will be posting on some specific budget-related issues.   These will include:

  1. Faculty Salaries and Benefits (and a look at department budgets)
  2. Consequences of Growth: UBC’s Tuition Allocation Model and the Growing Teaching and Research Deficits
  3. Funding UBC’s commitments to the Indigenous Strategic Plan, Anti-Black Racism, the Inclusion Action Plan, and EDI.
  4. Two Campuses, One University?
  5. Tuition, Affordability, and Accessibility to UBC
  6. Capital Projects
  7. The Climate Action Plan


Some Considerations for UBC’s Transformation to Online Learning

UBC faculty are in the midst of re-designing the university’s courses for online delivery in the Fall.  This extraordinary and unprecedented transformation on a university-wide scale requires significant support and financial resources.

While students were generally appreciative of the efforts instructors made during the unexpected and sudden switch to remote learning in the middle of March, they expect the courses they take this fall to be well-designed online learning experiences meeting UBC’s high educational standards.

To provide such high-calibre online learning experiences for  UBC’s 65,000 students will require a serious investment on the part of the university.

To be sure, the Administration has directed some key units to focus on supporting this transformation (e.g. UBCV’s CTLT and UBCO’s CTL, UBC IT, UBC Studios — all with many excellent staff). It has also repurposed $2 million of the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund (TLEF) on the Vancouver campus to support this transformation; this fund normally supports work involving only a small fraction of UBC’s courses. UBCO has committed $1.59 million to support its online teaching transformation efforts so far, of which $1.39 million is new funding.

Is this enough to support several thousand faculty members in their work to transform their courses? Is it enough to support the teaching of hundreds of courses online to tens of thousands of students?

This isn’t just an exercise in streaming lectures (live or recorded); it involves designing and delivering substantial online learning experiences for all of our students. The vast majority of the faculty have no real experience, let alone expertise, in online learning; and while many UBC faculty have expertise in high-engagement learning, little of their experience is through teaching fully online courses.  We are all learning as we go.

There are committees and working groups of faculty and staff convening at the university, faculty, and department levels around this transformation, and I expect they have identified issues to address, together with the actions and resources needed, to make this transformation successful. I have seen a few limited communications about this work, but I have had a difficult time piecing together from them the state of this massive project.

If I may, here are some of the things I believe need to considered and funded so we can offer students high-calibre online courses in the Fall.

1. Our students need access to a quality of internet service sufficient to participate fully in the courses they take online at UBC. 

Online learning requires reliable internet access and the quality of internet service affects the students’ experiences in our courses. If a course has extensive video content and there are expectations students will participate in video-enabled synchronous online activities, students will need reliable high-speed internet access for full participation in this course.

Some students cannot afford such access. Students who live in remote areas or in countries with lower standards of internet service may have difficulty accessing high calibre internet access even if they can afford it.

Some Australian universities have provided top-notch VPN services to students to improve connection stability.  In the case of China with its so-called “great firewall,” in addition to contracting high-calibre VPN service in China, universities required assistance from the Australian government to negotiate some easing of internet restrictions to support students’ access to the universities’ online systems and resources.

UBC IT is working on the issue of students’ internet access to the university’s systems, though I am not aware if Canada has negotiated a similar easing of internet restrictions with China as Australia has.

2. Course instructors need technical support to produce and deliver professional-level online learning experiences in our courses.

In their course designs, faculty will create both synchronous and asynchronous opportunities for students to engage with the course. To do this well requires a functional home studio, and, potentially, access to professional recording studios on campus.

In addition to providing essential basic technical support and access to software (which UBC does well), we should be prepared to support faculty to produce high-calibre online experiences for our students. Beyond the coming Fall term, investment now will also produce some lasting resources for our students.

UBC Studios (and partners) can be a key resource to support this work provided it is sufficiently funded to do so. Some of the services they could offer are:

To support self-produced content:

  • Design, develop, and distribute home studio kits (with AV Services).
  • Create a standard operation manual and guideline in order to standardize use of home kits. This will make it easier to provide support to users.
  • Train and support users of home studio kits (in collaboration with LT Hub)
  • Provide professional help (graphic design, interaction design, animation, etc.) to improve the quality of online presentations. This could include creation of templates or customized presentations for different use cases.

Expand recording studio availability:

  • Setting up new low-threshold recording studios (one button, lightboard, video/audio recording desks) on satellite locations across University (with AV Services)
  • Train host departmental staff or hire new staff to support new satellite studios.
  • Provide synchronous and asynchronous sessions at satellite studios with support from trained technicians (in collaboration with LT Hub and host departments).

Support immersive and virtual learning:

  • Design and develop immersive learning experiences (VR/AR, WebVR, 3D Learning) as alternative for experiential learning that cannot be offered during the pandemic.
  • Participate in creation of an immersive (VR, WebVR) learning platforms for real-time virtual collaboration and problem-based learning.
  • Create an interactive repository of 3D learning objects and specimens (expansion of the existing photogrammetry TLEF, led by Dr. Suzie Lavallee).

(I will note UBC is relying on faculty to use their professional development funds to pay for new equipment and services for their home studios.  I worry about my contract faculty colleagues, many of whom will have insufficient PD funds to cover these costs.)

3. Course instructors need instructional and technical course design support to produce and deliver effective online learning experiences for our students.

Even experienced and proficient instructors are likely to meet some significant challenges when redesigning their courses for online learning. How will students interact with instructors, with each other, and with the course materials in an online learning environment? Instructors with limited experience using online technology in their teaching may not know what is possible. Some are finding these challenges daunting and need expert help to  redesign their courses.

For example, a colleague who had recently converted one of his courses to a fully flipped course in which classroom interactions between students are central and critical has been wrestling with how to replicate this online. Small group interactions are possible through breakout rooms in Zoom or Collaborate Ultra, but having these small groups reconvene as the whole class to carry on a larger-scale conversation is tricky problem.  This is not simply a technical problem as one must consider high-level learning outcomes for this course, which go beyond mastery of basic content knowledge.

UBC has excellent central teaching and learning units on each campus (CTLT in Vancouver; CTL in Kelowna), which are supporting instructors preparing for remote teaching (Vancouver and Okanagan).  Many faculties also have small teaching and learning support units. As well, UBC has hired some extra Learning Technology Rovers (undergraduate students trained to assist instructors with tech) and Learning Design Interns to assist with this work.

All the while instructors are doing this work, they need to keep in mind making their courses accessible to students. Implementing closed-captioning for those with hearing impairment or considering accessibility for those with visual impairment, for example,  will require significant support. The Centre for Accessibility (Vancouver) and the Disability Resource Centre (Okanagan) are able to provide support for examinations for students registered with these centres. What other resources are needed?

My main question is: does UBC have enough capacity for instructional design and learning technology support to ensure all instructors have access to the help they need to transform their courses for online learning?

4.  Teaching assistants (TAs) need training, equipment, and technical support. 

We are about to do a massive uncontrolled “experiment” to study the question  How many students should be in an online class?  (Although there is no agreement on an optimal class size for online learning, until the pandemic forced us all online, the general wisdom was “smaller is better.”)

Many instructors commonly make extensive use of interactions with students in “lectures” as well as in discussion groups, workshops, or tutorials, and they will want to replicate these experiences for students in their online courses. Those teaching large enrolment classes will be considering ways to create “small group” learning spaces for students.  All departments should be considering the need to hold some of these synchronous small group sessions at hours accommodating students in distant time zones. To accomplish all of this, departments will need to hire larger numbers of teaching assistants than usual.

We will need to train TAs to lead such workshops and discussion groups in an online space, which means they will also need learn how to manage the technology they are using to create this space.

We also need to ensure TAs have the equipment to host workshops and discussion groups. For some disciplines, this equipment may include some form of graphics table input device. More generally, some of our TAs may need upgraded laptops and home studio equipment to guarantee a consistent, high-quality “UBC online learning experience.” We should also ensure our TAs have home internet service to match what we expect our instructors to have.

Throughout the term, TAs will also need access to timely technical support, particularly when they are leading live interactive sessions.

5. Academic departments and programs need full and unequivocal financial support to teach online.

It is clear there will be extra costs to teaching courses online. These costs will include additional instructor time (e.g. contract faculty needed to be paid for their time, including course development time), additional TAs, additional equipment, and additional on-going local tech support while courses are being taught.

These additional costs need to be assessed and properly funded given given how little discretionary money is available in most academic department budgets.  Thus, additional funds will need to be transferred directly to the academic departments.

UBC’s mission is an academic one, as confirmed in the University ActThis mission needs to be protected above all else. If need be, money should be redirected from non-academic projects to support the extraordinary shift online of our teaching mission. I would argue that any other choice would not be in the best interests of the University.