Show me the money

Following student dollars through Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Mark Stewart / The Runner

Mark Stewart / The Runner

By Kier-Christer Junos
[contributing editor]

You’re the biology major crying on the umpteenth edition of your new, million-dollar textbook; the black suit walking to a entrepreneurial leadership class; the creative-writer scrawling notes in a remote campus nook. It matters not who you are. To make this ship sail, you gotta pay.

You don’t have to be on Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s board of governors to know that millions of student dollars keep the university running, but to understand that money’s circulation isn’t exactly a light jog.

This year, the university pulled about $150,711,000 in total revenue, according to a 2013-14 audit conducted by KPMG (an accounting firm). Provincial government grants comprise about 47.8 per cent of this revenue, which sits at about $72.1-million. Besides that, the two other significant amounts are ancillary revenues (miscellaneous assets, like food services or parking fees, which drew about eight-million dollars) and student money (about $58.4-million, or 38.8 per cent of total revenue.).

With such a significant chunk of change in the budget of the university, it is important to understand how those funds are divided.

Breaking It Down

Student money splits in two ways: tuition fees and student fees. Tuition fees specifically cover the cost of instruction, and student fees cover specific services. The Kwantlen Student Association provides many of these, like the Multipass, for example.

“Clearly, the student association charges a bunch of student fees,” says KPU’s vice president of finance, Gordon Lee. “They have a range of those, and then we have other student fees related to specific services.” Lee says other fees include application fees, registration fees, library fees, and others.

The student association’s operating budget is $5.56-million this year, according to the KSA’s vice president of finance, Gaurav Bhulla. That money includes health and dental benefits, which is money unused by the KSA and given to the benefit-providing company, which in this case is Gallivan and Associates. Bhulla adds that about 98 per cent of this revenue comes from student money. Miscellaneous revenues, like from advertising, reflect the remainder of his percentage. Bhulla explains that students inherently create the services that the KSA provides.

“In 2009, someone came to us and they were like, we should start a peer counselling service for students, or a Radio Free Kwantlen service for students,” says Bhulla. “And we were like, okay. Let’s go to referendum. Students will vote in the referendum, and if they approve the funding, then we can start collecting fees from students.”

Other fees include the 70-cents per credit for the Polytechnic Ink Publishing Society, that publishes The Runner and help funds Pulp; the 13-cents per credit for Radio Free Kwantlen, a fee for volunteer online radio; and the 95-cents per credit for the Canadian Federation of Students.

An example of a recent fee gone to referendum is the inauguration of the Kwantlen Public Research Interest Group, at 80-cents per credit according to Richard Hosein, administrative and resource coordinator for KPIRG. Hosein, who studies policy at KPU, is also a member on KPU’s board of governors.

Creating KPU’s Budget

The board of governors is the highest legislative body in every publicly funded British Columbian university. B.C.’s University Act ensures this. Hosein says the provincial government appoints two-thirds of the board’s members. He says investors can also be present, though the board of governors’ webpage shows no investors presently on the board. This body is the end of the budget-creation process for the university.

Budgeting is an annual process, and Lee explains that when the year starts, the university creates budget priorities and criteria, and the university senate—legislated by the University Act of B.C. as the senior academic governing body—creates academic priorities.

These priorities considered, KPU’s financial services creates preliminary financial forecasts. Different faculties then submit budget proposals to that same administration, who determine the viability of the proposals. Senate—on the consideration of their academic priorities—advises on the ranking of each proposal. Lee says those academic priorities involve many components, including the keeping or cutting of programs, goals to improve student success and curriculum development in the short-term. Eventually a draft budget is created, but the process doesn’t stop there.

Senate’s standing committee on university budgets reviews the draft for two months. At the end of that series, senate looks at the budget again, and they revise and adopt items as they see fit.
The board of governors’ finance committee gets the revised draft, who then add recommendations for the board. Then the board of governors reviews the draft with all recommendations, and then finally, under the authority of the University Act, they can approve the budget.

Budget Cuts

It’s a lengthy process, one that Lee says has spawned difficulty every year. Lee notes that the university is at a deficit this year of two-million dollars, and the implications of this deficit make budgeting difficult. According to Lee, budget requests from faculties were at about $28-million last year, and this year, Lee says, “we’ve only got some $10-million in requests so far.”

“Yes, to some extent, they are doing that,” says Lee. “Although, you know, as I said, we’ve got a budget gap so it’s not clear that we have any new money. So putting in $10-million in requests from a pot that’s getting two-million smaller…”

“What it comes down to is provincial funding and what provincial funding is like,” adds Hosein. “Previous to the last election, the Liberal government cut about $45-million to all post-secondary school funding. So that obviously took a blow to us as an institution. This is a reason why [the university] raised fees in other areas. For instance, international student fees got raised by about 4.5 per cent this year. The effort there is to fill in deficits that the provincial government has given to the institution.”

ESL funding was cut by about $1.4-million dollars this year, and KPU’s student psychology lab also endured cuts. Lee says cuts like these have been a factor in the university’s operating costs. In grants (47.8 per cent of total revenue), the B.C. government granted about $644,000 less in 2014 than they did in 2013. Lee says that the government also didn’t pay for employee salary increases, which were instead covered by administrative savings of about four-million dollars.

“We are required by the government to run a balanced budget,” says Lee. “We can’t run at a deficit. And our board of governors also has a policy where we can’t run at a deficit . . . We need to balance our budget every year. And that’s getting harder and harder to do. I’ve been doing this particular job now for six years, and every year it gets harder.”

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