Western senators talked dollar and cents at the last senate meeting on Friday Dec. 4. Out of the meeting’s agenda items, the university’s funding formula review and academic priorities fund took centre stage.
Western funding formula review
At the meeting, provost Janice Deakin updated Western senators on the university's funding formula review task force’s progress. The task force formed last spring to help the Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities after it launched a province-wide university funding formula review.
Although Deakin noted the task force’s report will be pushed back into the new year, she said the committee’s consultations so far revealed community consensus on issues like the importance of experiential learning, that teaching and research should be given equal weight and the need for predictable and stable funding. On the other hand, Deakin reported there is less agreement over how learning outcomes should be measured and moving forward, it’s unclear to the extent in which enrolment based funding will be part of the new funding formula.
Academic priorities fund
After Deakin revealed the final report from Western’s budget task force will also be pushed back to early 2016, the conversation shifted to Western’s academic priorities fund (AFP) — incremental and one-time funds awarded to faculties based on their priorities in areas like research, teaching or internationalization as expressed in the faculty’s annual academic plans. Senator and Western professor Nick Dyer-Witheford questioned Deakin about the AFP’s distribution.
“Not all faculties get [funds for] their first priorities,” Dyer-Witheford said. "There is a lot of unevenness in the allocations, especially when that money goes into base budgets — it can make a significant difference.… Would it not be better if the allocation of the APF was less of a black box affair and more transparent in terms of the reasons for and the principles guiding its allocation?”
Deakin’s response was that distributing the APF based on guidelines that are too specific hurts the fund's ability to respond to the university faculties’ complex needs.
"It isn’t done by formula," she said. "It’s done based on an analysis of what’s been asked for and what is the historic [net] contributions of a particular faculty to the university.”
Deakin added the AFP's funds are quite limited compared to Western's total operating budget.
“We’re talking about 1.5-million dollars on a base budget of $700-million and so choices need to be made,” she said. “I don’t do it in a black box, I discuss it with each of the deans."