UBC’s budget for 2021/22 set to bolster EDI, expand student supports, and further the university’s impact

The UBC Board of Governors has approved the budget for 2021/22, setting spending priorities for the year ahead to support the ongoing recovery from COVID-19, to further UBC’s impact through key priorities, and to continue support for excellence in teaching, learning, and research.

The UBC Board of Governors has approved the budget for 2021/22, setting spending priorities for the year ahead to support the ongoing recovery from COVID-19, to further UBC’s impact through key priorities, and to continue support for excellence in teaching, learning, and research.

The financial plan for 2021/22 will enable the university’s ongoing response to COVID-19, which is centred on supporting the long-term health and wellbeing of students, faculty, and staff. In 2020/21 UBC invested over $13.7M centrally to create an enriched online learning experience in response to the pandemic, and students received over $380M in financial support from university, as well as provincial and federal sources. The university is investing an additional $11M in 2021/22 to support the safe return to campus this fall.

In addition to the ongoing recovery from COVID-19, UBC is committed to investing in our students, furthering our academic mandate, and promoting a more inclusive, diverse, and vibrant community. Key areas outlined in the 2021/22 budget include: supporting excellence in teaching, learning, and research; continuing to elevate our research capacity and capabilities through the President’s Academic Excellence Initiative; championing the Climate Action Plan; furthering anti-racism and inclusive excellence initiatives across UBC’s campuses; and supporting the implementation of the Indigenous Strategic Plan.

The heart of UBC’s financial approach is ensuring student success. Prior to the onset of COVID-19, the university adjusted the budget process, allocating revenue generated from the 2020/21 tuition increase directly to student-guided initiatives. Last year this generated $7.9M of funding to support priorities including emergency financial aid, student-facing climate projects, and upgrades to student spaces. In 2021/22 this funding totals $18M, which — based on student input — has been earmarked to support COVID-related needs for additional student financial aid to address tuition costs, the cost of living, and support for the delivery of hybrid learning and student programs and services.

“The past year has been challenging in many ways for our community. We have nevertheless achieved remarkable things in the face of adversity, and we continue to advance our key priorities as a university,” said Andrew Szeri, provost and vice-president academic, UBC Vancouver. “Support for our students remains a key focus, and we’re expanding investments in student financial aid as well as health supports and services to provide resources where they’re needed. Support for faculty and staff is also a key focus, with continuing enhanced support to handle the COVID-related stresses on the teaching mission of the university.”

A key goal in 2021/22 is to foster an even more diverse and inclusive community at UBC, through enhancing access, success, and representation of historically underserved, marginalized, and excluded populations. Two million dollars is being invested to begin addressing recommendations from the President’s Anti-Racism Task Force, and significant funding has been committed to consult on, develop, and implement an Indigenous and Black faculty hiring program for the next seven years.

More than $8M is earmarked to support Indigenous and Black students, including ongoing funding for the Indigenous Student Collegium at the First Nations House of Learning, a space to support Indigenous students as a home away from home. Building on $2M of investment in 2020/21, an additional $2.8M is budgeted next year for the implementation of the Indigenous Strategic Plan. A further $13M is earmarked over the next five years to follow consultation and enable the plan’s long-term sustainability.

“We are making space to invest in people who are going to move inclusive excellence forward at UBC,” says Lesley Cormack, deputy vice-chancellor and principal, UBC Okanagan. “These are not one-time commitments, but areas of focus that we have been developing over time, and that will continue to transform UBC and its impact.”

UBC is a research powerhouse with sponsored research drawing over $640M in investment in 2020/21, including over $24M to push forward critical advances relating to COVID-19. The university provided over $16M to continue advancing key research initiatives last year — including Research Excellence Clusters, the Clean Energy Research Centre (CERC), and Global Research Excellence Institutes (GREx) — and an additional $20M is proposed for 2021/22. Up to $88M is earmarked over the next seven years to ensure the long-term success and sustainability of these programs. In addition, recurring funding has been set aside to expand the President’s Academic Excellence Initiative, an ambitious and comprehensive approach that will elevate UBC’s overall research impact.

The climate emergency continues to be an area of focus for the university, through initiatives like Campus as a Living Lab, UBC’s divestment commitments, and several low-carbon infrastructure projects. In 2021/22 a further $1.3M is being invested in the Climate Action Plan and the climate emergency.

“UBC is committed to becoming a global leader in our response to the climate emergency,” explains Peter Smailes, vice-president, finance and operations. “Research and activity that addresses climate change is being undertaken across the university, and as an organization we are taking steps to continue to be a leader in sustainability. Our financial approach will continue to support these initiatives.”

UBC’s budget process

Given the financial pressures related to COVID-19, the approved budget is the result of a streamlined consultation process led by Szeri, Smailes, and Cormack.

In total, the budget plans for $3.1B in total spending through the 2021/22 year. While the 2021/22 operating budget projects a $61M deficit, the total consolidated budget — which includes capital spending and income earned from land development proceeds, research, and endowments — is projected to result just above a balanced position with a $10M surplus.

The university’s budget process began in the fall of 2020, supported by knowledge and experience gained through the previous year. Strong financial management through the initial impact of COVID-19, coupled with the active and engaged reduction of discretionary spending across the university by the community, have enabled UBC to remain in strong financial health. Recently, external credit rating agencies Moody’s Investors Services and S&P Global Ratings both reaffirmed UBC with Aa1 and AA+ ratings, respectively.

“We are a financially robust university, and while we have faced increased cost pressures as a result of COVID-19, we are recovering well and are positioned to continue investing in our strategic priorities,” adds Smailes. “The budget process this year has presented us with unique challenges, but strong financial management across the university has enabled us to maneuver through these challenges, and to continue advancing excellence in teaching, learning, and research.”

To learn more, read UBC’s 2021/22 Budget report.