SFU consults community on 2016–2017 budget

The financial outlook for 2015–2016 shows a revised investment projection with marginal changes elsewhere. - Graphic by Gabriel Yeung

SFU recently held a community consultation on the university’s 2016–2017 budget on October 29.

The session outlined SFU’s financial outlook and made budget recommendations for 16–17 with the help of Associate VP Finance Alison Blair.

This community consultation was the last of four events, after which the university will continue to put the budget together until it is ready to be confirmed in its final form by the Board of Governors on March 24, 2016.

Blair noted that “market uncertainty” in 2015 and 2016 “has caused us to revise some investment income projections.” Income from investments was revised down to $7.5 million from the initial projection of $10 million in 2015–2016.

Last year’s tuition fee increase of 2 per cent for all students led to a $4 million increase in revenue and the additional 8 per cent increase for international undergraduates only led to a $6.5 million increase in tuition revenue for 2015–2016. 

Among the recommendations for the next fiscal year’s budget made were an “across the board tuition fee increase of 2 per cent,” and a 25 per cent higher fee for international fees for the Masters of Business Administration (MBA) program, MSc in Finance, and the Management of Technology MBA, over the domestic fees.

While the audience in the Diamond Family Auditorium was sparse, those in attendance raised questions about various aspects of the budget recommendations, especially the raise in international student fees for the MBA program.

Said one student in a question to the presenters, “If this is a consultation, which I’m not sure if anything we say here today will change anything, I would like to speak against [differential fees].” She continued, “It is an exploitation to charge one group [more] for the same product depending on where they’re from.”

VP Academic and Provost Jon Driver characterized the rationale for differential fees as “pretty straightforward arithmetic.” He explained that the university currently dilutes the grant it receives from the provincial government by taking in more students than the province pays for.

He noted that the university considers the cost of accommodating more graduate students as “the price of being involved in research.”

Said Driver, “In the case of the MBA program, I think we would see this as a less research intensive program. It’s basically a program that confers a very significant financial advantage on the people who go through the program.”

One question from the audience brought up the issue of divestment from fossil fuels and whether or not the issue was on the table for next year. Blair responded, “No, not at this time.” She did, however, mention that the board recently created a Responsible Investment Committee and is “looking into” investing more into sustainable industries.

The Ubyssey reported on Oct. 26 that UBC is currently lobbying the provincial government for removal of the cap for domestic tuition fee increases of 2 per cent.

Driver explained SFU’s position on the cap, referring to a document produced by the Research Universities Council of BC (of which UBC and SFU are both members), which states the group “[does] not want to appear either in favour of taking the cap off or in favour of the cap being universally applied because [members] do have certain programs where there is a genuine need to increase tuition.”

The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) was also on hand to detail the society’s role in the university’s finances. VP External Relations Kathleen Yang spoke to recent lobbying by the SFSS:

“We asked for four key things,” she explained: funding for open textbooks, increase to capital funding, and the ability to self-finance capital projects were among the concerns the SFSS brought to the provincial government.

“Those are our key asks,” said Yang, “Whether or not they take those key asks is another story.”

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