Where did all the Paper Towels Go?

Written by Nathaniel Malong

“Do you know what really bothered me?” Losing all those paper towels in most of the university washrooms. The soft comfort it gave me as I dried off my wet hands and face as I prepared for another gruelling session of university; the slight euphoria I needed to continue with my day in happiness and pride. But the heartbreak I felt having it disappear, the sorrow on my face as I settled for the air dryers by the sink, my hands blowing in the dirty, hot wind felt like a car exhaust being blown in my face. I was furious and wondered where all these prized paper towels went and why some of the small comforts I had in the school had disappeared. My first conclusion was that rising inflation rates made everything more expensive, and the number of washrooms in the University made it too costly for them to fund everything. But then I rationalized that with more domestic and international students coming into the University, there must be a realistic reason for the disappearance of paper towels. So, while swamped with school work and other obligations, I decided to do what I did not want to do, and instead, I chose to study the recent University of Lethbridge budget and formulate conclusions regarding it. So, in this article, I will interpret the reason for the disappearance of paper towels, the state of the school budget, and how our tuition money is being spent. We should all be aware of the University’s finances and form educated opinions on where we want our money to go.

Before going into the expenditures that the University is heavily investing in for the 2023/24 fiscal year, we will look into changes in revenue for the University. While the operating grant has stayed the same since 2022/23, we must also be aware that there has been a 24 million dollar reduction in this grant since 2019/20. A change in provincial policy towards grants for post-secondary institutions in Alberta caused this operating grant decrease. In April 2019, when the United Conservative Party formed a majority government, they took on the challenge of restructuring the higher education sector within Canada, which included a performance-based model (Klingbell, 2023). This push towards this newer model shifted post-secondary education’s priorities to focus more on serving industry and the labour market than serving a democratic society within Canada (Klingbell, 2023). This new performance-based model encouraged massive budget cuts for post-secondary education within Alberta, totalling half a billion dollars between 2019-2023, representing a 31% cut in funding for the entire province (Klingbell, 2023). The University of Lethbridge was included in these heavy budget cuts, losing the previously stated 24 million dollars, representing 24% of the aggregate operating grant. While these cuts were implemented in the 2019/20 fiscal year, we can still feel their effects today, with the University adopting a long-term strategy to mitigate the impact of this cut (Walker, 2023). This includes a 10% reduction of the total workforce, 49 academic positions being let go through retirement or resignation, and 556 non-academic positions abolishment. Some other strategies were to eliminate two Pronghorn hockey teams, increase lease revenue, reduce life cycle equipment replacement funding, a reduction and eliminate contingency funds, and reduce faculty/department discretionary funding (Walker, 2023). 

University revenue is based on multiple sources, but one main factor to consider is that we have increased our tuition and enrollment rates this year compared to previous years. Tuition rates are projected to increase by 5.5% for domestic students for the 2023/24 academic year (Walker, 2023). However, increases will be capped at 2% for the foreseeable future due to new legislation. Enrolment rates have also significantly increased for international students, going up by 40% in fall 2023 compared to fall 2022 (Walker, 2023). This increase compensates for a reduction in domestic credit hours, which is projected to be lower due to the effects of COVID-19 and faculty-labor disruptions (Walker, 2023). Looking into university assumptions for expense rates, there are increases in most factors in student budgets, with increases in salaries, IT maintenance, and utilities budget (Walker, 2023). Salary and benefit changes are based on a collective agreement contractual increase and other anticipated salary and benefit increases (Walker, 2023). Non-union employee groups like the Administrative professional officers, Exempt Support staff, Senior Administration Employees, and Excluded Professionals have been on salary restraint since July 2015 under a provincial government mandate (Walker 2023). With the restraint being partially lifted in April 2022, this allowed for a 3% maximum increase for these identified employee groups, and further lifting of these restraints in March 2023 allowed maximum increases for these employee groups (Walker, 2023). The 23% increase in the utility budget is justified by the effects of market forces like the rising gas price, which the University described as a massive risk (Walker, 2023). I have decided to highlight these principal increases and decreases based on their importance and impact on forming this year’s school budget. However, we must now look at the budget from a much broader perspective and explore the cuts and additions to it based on the General Operating fund.

It is important to remind you that while I look over the projection of the general operating budget for this fiscal year, this refers to a projected budget sheet before the University implements reductions. The information I am presenting is a projection before any changes the University implements to balance it. While there are many factors, I will mainly focus on the changes the University is implementing as opposed to the 2022/23 fiscal year. Looking into university revenue sources, Federal and other government grants have decreased by 6000 dollars, from 2,613,000 to 2,607,000 (Walker, 2023). Meanwhile, tuition and fees have increased by 3,887,000 from 56,511,000 to 60,398,000 (Walker, 2023). Meanwhile, services and product sales have decreased by 335,000, from 5,803,000 to 5,468,000 (Walker, 2023). So, there have been small reductions in university revenue, but it ultimately increased by 3,546,000 due to a significant increase in student tuition from 2022/23 to 2023/24 (Walker, 2023). Looking over expenditures, we can see substantial increases and decreases across multiple sources within the spending. There was a 9,636,000 increase in the salaries and benefits budget of the University, from 127,755,000 to 137,391,000 (Walker, 2023). Utilities went up by 1,406,000 from 5,977,000 to 7,383,000. Scholarships went up by 36,000, from 3,589,000 to 3,625,000 (Walker, 2023). And, the crown jewel of it all, the answer to the question of this article, is that supplies and services expenditures went down by 645,000, from 19,078,000 to 18,443,000 (Walker, 2023). Overall, the University projects an initial deficit of six million dollars and eight hundred eighty-seven thousand dollars (Walker, 2023). 

So, there is the answer to our initial question of where the paper towels have gone. With a reduction in the supplies and services budget by 645,000, we can assume that there goes our beloved paper towels with the reduction. Blown away by the wind alongside multiple other budget cuts to ensure the continuing functioning of the University. However, with this report on projected deficits by the University, we must also acknowledge the strategies they are implementing to balance the budget and ensure stability. One of the key strategies is to continue restraining hires on replacing positions within the university system, which was used in 2022/23 to cut the 4.3 million deficit by using one-time funds to hire term replacements instead of continued hires (Walker, 2023). Some factors that allowed these in the first place are realized task force savings, improvement in international student enrolment, and resignations and retirements (Walker, 2023). This allows the University to invest in people, which they do by reinvesting in continuing positions of priority areas and investing in non-bargaining employees (Walker, 2023). I could go into incredible detail about the changes the University is implementing to resolve the continuing effects of labour disruptions, but the main idea that you need to know is that collectively, the decrease in the operating grant and a not comparable increase in the revenues have caused the University to decrease their expenditures.

This comprises a General Operating Fund and Consolidated Budget that the University will be utilizing for this year. I will only go over it in some detail compared to its projected budget, as it repeats many of the same changes we had already gone over. However, some details we must look into from the general operating fund of 2023/24 and its further projections into 2025-2026 is that the school will still have a 1.151 million dollar decrease in supplies and services funding, dropping to 17,926,000 from 19,081,000 (Walker, 2023). Expenditures generally increased by 4,685,000, hoping to match the revenue increase the University had mostly from tuition payments (Walker, 2023). However, this match is not a sign of good tidings considering further reductions in other areas and with massive increases in salaries and utility budget. As reported by the consolidated budget, however, the University will experience a 1.6 million dollar surplus attributed to the ancillary services’ contributions (Walker, 2023). Budgeted revenue looks to be around $227 million, while projected expenditures are around $225 million (Walker, 2023). 

What we can take away from this budget report is that even with the successful budgeting and reported surplus by the University, we are still experiencing reductions and hiring troubles due to multiple external factors that affect not only this University but other post-secondary institutions across Canada. While we can point to certain key events that may have had a significant or not-so-significant impact on the university budget, we must also remember that the drop in university funding is due to a culmination of these events that span from 2019 to 2023. The tuition increases, however, and a decrease in provided services and supplies have left students lacking in their university life, which impedes the university mandate to bring high quality to students, as stated by their budget report. 

So, all in all, the paper towels went away due to decreased expenditures on supplies. However, with a peek into the university budget, we can also see where the money from a 5.5% increase in tuition prices went to compensate for increases in other expenditures within the university. We hope that changes in how the provincial government handles post-secondary grants and an increased student population will bring more optimism to the university.

We look towards the future, always and every time, whether bleak or hopeful. But more importantly, we now know that if we want to dry our hands, we must bring paper towels. 

References 

Klingbell, C. (2023, September 28). The political battle over postsecondary education in Alberta. University Affairs. https://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/the-political-battle-over-postsecondary-education-in-alberta/ 

Walker, Nancy (2023, April). Budget Plan 2023/24. [Budget Report]. University of Lethbridge. https://uleth.sharepoint.com/teams/planning-and-reporting/public/Shared%20Documents/Forms/AllItems.aspx?id=%2Fteams%2Fplanning%2Dand%2Dreporting%2Fpublic%2FShared%20Documents%2FBudget%2FArchive%2F2023%2D24%20Budget%2Epdf&parent=%2Fteams%2Fplanning%2Dand%2Dreporting%2Fpublic%2FShared%20Documents%2FBudget%2FArchive&p=true&ga=1

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