Nova Scotia

Dalhousie University facing tuition increase

An "unprecedented" reduction in government funding will leave Dalhousie University in Halifax with a $14.6-million budget shortfall this year, according to school planning documents released this week.
Ken Burt said the university's shortfall can't be erased, even if tuitions are increased by a maximum of three per cent. (CBC)

An "unprecedented" reduction in government funding will leave Dalhousie University in Halifax with a $14.6-million budget shortfall this year, according to school planning documents released Tuesday.

The discussion paper says Nova Scotia's largest university will need to reduce spending by 6.5 per cent in order to balance its own books, after a $7-million cut in funding from the Nova Scotia government.

"While not wishing to sound the alarm, it must be noted that the magnitude of the reduction in operating revenues is unprecedented," the Dalhousie budget advisory committee report says.

"The impact of this significant reduction in provincial operating grant is compounded by annual inflationary increases that the university incurs for compensation and other expenses."

That will likely force the university to increase tuition by three per cent —the maximum allowable.

But that still won't erase the shortfall.

"The $14.6-million shortfall assumes a three per cent increase in tuition and even then we still have that large gap to close," Dalhousie's vice-president of finance and administration, Ken Burt, said Tuesday.

Earlier this year, the provincial government announced it was lifting a tuition freeze and cutting funding to universities by four per cent in an effort to balance its books.

Burt said everything is on the table at Dalhousie, including a dozen previously protected items including student scholarships, library acquisitions and facilities management.

"The nature of the problem we have this year, and the magnitude of it, we really have to turn over every stone and look or savings where we can," Burt said.

Dalhousie can cut its shortfall in half if the government gives it a break on its pension problems. The university is still waiting for a decision.

"There are two big elements in this plan: The reduction in the government grant of $7 million and the solvency payment we would have to make if we are not successful in obtaining additional solvency relief from the provincial government," Burt said. "Those two items essentially make up the entire shortfall that we are facing."

Dalhousie might have been in worse shape if it were not for an unexpected increase in enrolment by 175 students.

"We were in a good position because of growth in student population that will stay with us and will help us manage this budget crisis that we are moving into," Burt said.

Enrolment target

Dalhousie has nearly reached its enrolment target of 17,000 students. Even so, the senate report says, that "cannot compensate for the revenue shortfall as the base budget reduction would only be reduced by 0.2 per cent for every 100 additional students."

The university's board of governors must approve a balanced budget later this spring.

Colin Dodds, president of Saint Mary's University in Halifax, declined to comment on the budget situation until after a meeting of the university senate later this month.

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