Transform the SFU Experience

Faculty and staff town hall focuses on university budget and finances

February 08, 2024

More than 800 faculty and staff gathered virtually to learn about the university’s upcoming priorities from senior leadership at the January 31 Town Hall.  

Moderated by SFU Public Square’s Executive Director Janet Webber, the event included President Joy Johnson, Provost and VP Academic Dilson Rassier, and VP Finance and Administration Martin Pochurko. Other executives including VP People, Equity and Inclusion, Yabome Gilpin-Jackson, were also in attendance and available to respond to questions as needed.  

After welcoming attendees, Joy shared a few remarks about the start of the term and the year ahead. Dilson and Martin provided an overview of the 2024 – 2025 budget, financial pressures and the economic conditions the university is facing, as well as the measures being taken to address challenges. 

“There are many factors that influence the budget, such as inflation, which has raised operating expenses across the university, but we are working diligently to find efficiencies and new ways of working that will ensure long-term stability,” said Dilson.  

More than 30 questions were answered over a 90-minute period, with a majority focusing on the university’s plans for revenue generation and cost management, international student enrolment and the staff hiring freeze. 

Below are some highlights of the key topics discussed:  

Revenue and cost management

Faculty and staff had a number of questions directly related to the 2024 – 2025  budget, including the measures being taken to address budget shortfalls and the reasons behind the university’s financial challenges.  

  • SFU, like other public postsecondary institutions in B.C., is required to produce a balanced budget each year. 

  • Similar to other Canadian post-secondary institutions, inflationary pressures and a shortfall in international student tuition are two main drivers of the budget deficit. We know that we cannot continue to depend on international students to make things work. We are working to create new forms of revenue generations that will uphold our academic mission.  

  • There are also certain financial obligations that are unique to SFU in comparison with other universities and impact the overall budget. This includes a full divestment from fossil fuels by 2025 and Living Wage Employer certification. SFU remains committed to these initiatives and they are part of the overall cost considerations. 

  • We have once again received an AA credit rating with a stable outlook, which means that SFU entered this period of budgetary challenges from a strong financial position and high level of trust with external stakeholders.  

  • Budget challenges will not be solved immediately and will have an impact for the next few years.

Hiring freeze, faculty and staff hiring processes  

There were a number of questions about the implementation of an administrative hiring freeze and hiring processes for faculty and staff. Questions asked included requests for clarification on the process and reasoning for the freeze, the criteria for determining exceptions and approaches to faculty and staff hiring, now and in the future.

Members of the senior leadership team emphasized the value and essential contributions that all faculty and staff bring to the SFU community while affirming the importance of ensuring long-term financial resilience for the university.  

  • We recognize that a hiring freeze is hard on the entire SFU community. Though it is difficult, we believe it is necessary for a period of time.

  • The hiring freeze will be reexamined at the end of the fiscal year in March. While we have a general idea of where we stand now, our financial situation will be confirmed closer to the end of March. We are committed to sharing updates with the community as soon as we can.  

  • Senior leadership continues to work with units to determine which positions are essential to university operations through the exception approval process. Hiring managers must provide clear rationale for the role and demonstrate that they have made adjustments to their structure to be as efficient as possible. Senior leadership engages in conversations with hiring managers to ensure we have a clear picture of the need. 

  • Exceptions are granted based on the necessity of the role for university operations. There is no preference given to senior roles. The vast number of positions that have been given exemptions so far have been student positions, not senior leadership roles. 

  • We are asking the SFU community to reprioritize work. This means not all work can be done at this time. The executive is supportive of teams determining priorities and what work can be stopped. This is a good moment to consider what work is most aligned with the university’s strategic plan

  • Faculty hiring is done on an annual basis in accordance with the Faculty Renewal Plan. All faculty hires are subject to approval from the Provost’s office, even when the university is not facing budgetary constraints.   

  • There are also unique challenges to hiring faculty in B.C., such as housing affordability, that mean positions go unfilled each year.  

International student enrolment 

With the federal government’s recent announcement about putting a cap on international student permit approvals, many attendees had questions about SFU’s plans to increase international student enrolment while ensuring adequate academic, housing and cultural support.  

  • It’s important that any international student considering SFU understands they are welcome here.

  • SFU executives have been in contact with the provincial government regularly since the federal announcement and they have been supportive of our concerns. 

  • There has been positive movement towards more regulation of private post-secondary institutions which could provide more room for public institutions like SFU to thrive. 

  • While the specific caps on international student numbers have not yet been determined, the provincial government is committed to supporting research-intensive universities like SFU as much as possible. 

  • The caps will not apply to graduate level degree programs. It applies to all other graduate programs such as graduate diplomas and certificates.

  • Reliance on international tuition is a reality that many, if not all, universities in Canada are facing right now. Regardless of the outcome on international student caps, SFU recognizes there is a need to manage this part of our budget. 

  • While SFU remains committed to increasing international student numbers, there is also a robust international plan in place that goes beyond student recruitment. This plan includes securing additional revenue streams through key international partnerships and initiatives that are aligned with our academic mission and values. More concrete information will be shared with the community as soon as it is available. 

The high level of engagement and participation was greatly appreciated by executives, and faculty and staff are encouraged to continue bringing questions forward during future town halls. 

A recording of the town hall is available in full or you can watch the opening remarks and Q&A portion separately.

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