The Brandon University board of governors approved the institution’s 2022-27 Strategic Plan in principle at their regular meeting on Saturday.
The document is centred on helping the university serve as the finest regional university in the country, said BU president David Docherty.
“The finest is wherever vibrant and engaged people choose to gather,” Docherty said. “But it’s not a destination university in the sense that we’re not saying we want more people from away than we want from within. It’s a university that serves its broader community — we serve Westman, but we also serve other Canadians and international students as well.”
The plan informs and supports other documents that affect the university, including the new Strategic Research Plan, Campus Master Plan and Academic Plan.
Docherty added one of the biggest challenges facing post-secondary institutions is the issue of relevance, the challenge of a growing “anti-science movement,” and the need to show the value of the different skills being learned, including in the humanities and social sciences.
Universities will also face significant adversity under the COVID-19 global health crisis and environmental sustainability.
However, Docherty added BU can focus on opportunities as well, including Indigenity, equity, diversity and inclusion, and mental wellness. These remain critical aspects facing the university, including how it can move forward and meet needs on campus.
“Universities have often invited social change, and we have to make sure we continue to do that,” Docherty said.
Docherty described the plan as three interwoven plans centred on their commitment to students, staff, faculty and the community. As part of this, there is a responsibility of BU toward Indigenization, wellness on campus and equity, diversity and inclusion.
He noted they are seeking an Indigenous name for the Strategic Plan and are consulting with elders and knowledge keepers to help inform the chosen title.
Docherty said the plan will be shared with the Strategic Plan Advisory Committee before it is fully finalized in early December and will be taken to the Senate for further conversation. It will appear before the board again in early January for final approval.
“This plan is about setting the framework of success,” Docherty said. “Our campus is a jewel already, but it can be even more.”
During the Board of Governors meeting, a 2021-22 budget update for the institution was provided by Scott Lamont, BU vice-president of administration and finance.
Lamont said the pandemic continues to impact BU, and when the 2020 budget was first created, it was understood they had to monitor the document to understand how it was working out.
“We’re doing OK,” Lamont said. “There are some very specific pandemic-related expenses that we’re covering and it’s over-budget at this point ... On an overall basis, we’re still in a reasonably good balanced position.”
The BU budget was approved in March 2020.
The updated numbers are based on up to Oct. 31, and another update will be provided on Jan. 31. The additional update is being provided to take into consideration any changes in enrolment between terms based on COVID-19.
“We’re obviously now into the second year. We had certain learning from last year, but we also had money that was made available to the university last year from the governments specifically to deal with the pandemic,” Lamont said. “That money is not available this year.”
Figures provided in the document are based on where the university will be sitting as of March 31, the fiscal year-end.
The university currently has a revenue shortfall of about $279,000. Tuition revenues have gone up during the pandemic in comparison to 2020 by about $1 million, and 2021-22 has another $800,000 budgeted.
“It’s not only the number of people at the university, but it’s also the ratio of undergraduate to graduate and international to domestic — each of those students pays a different tuition fee,” Lamont said. “Not only are the numbers reasonably close, but the ratios are reasonably close.”
The projections for 2021-22 were based on what was experienced in 2021.
Tuition and fees are short by about $100,000 overall, and the province shorted the university by about $20,000. Sales of goods from mainly auxiliary services are also down by about $159,000.
BU auxiliary services saw a massive loss in 2020 because there were very few students in residence and very few people in the parking lot. In contrast, 2021 will be close to break-even with a loss of $10,000 — 2020 was $800,000 in comparison. The university currently has about 200 students in residence, while last year there were about 100.
The Healthy Living Centre is down about $35,000, he said, but more activities will be in the gym for the winter term, hopefully putting the facility in a better position.
On the expenses side, Lamont said, the university is saving money.
“That is our saving grace. To jump to the bottom line, we are really under-budget now by $791,000,” Lamont said. “On the positive side of the budget we are not over-budget, we are under-budget.”
The university saved $531,000 on salaries and budgets, and major savings were found through the limited travel opportunities during the pandemic.
Communications and advertising saved about $75,000, he added, and the university saved money on goods and services to the tune of $336,000.
“While we’re under-budget on the revenue side by about $279K, we’re also under-budget on the expense side by about a million dollars,” Lamont said,
The final tally puts the university in a net position of $791,000 under-budget.
He noted the university has also set aside $200,000 for COVID-19 and is over-budget at about $315,000.
Docherty noted the university will remain agile when it comes to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
BU will be proceeding with 25 or fewer students in class, but there will be the opportunity for larger groups as long as social distancing and masks are in place. A final number is not yet available, but is expected around 75 per cent of courses that will be on campus.
The university has about 900 students who had no classes on campus, and more than 60 per cent were only taking one or two classes, Docherty said. These students are seeing online learning as a convenience because they may live outside Brandon and virtual classrooms make it easier to attend class. Online may also be preferable because of COVID-19, especially given the uncertain future the world faces with the pandemic.
The university is prepared to make quick decisions if conditions warrant and shift online.
Docherty added BU remains concerned with the mental health toll on students because online does not compare to being in-person and cannot stoke conversation in the same way.
He added BU still wants to see as many students in class as possible because teaching in-person is always the preferred option.
The university still takes a cautious approach, Docherty added, noting the campus had not had one case of COVID-19 transmitted that they are aware of.
“That’s not to say that it’s not going to happen, there is no guarantee that it won’t. Obviously, the more people gather in areas the more likelihood there is, but we haven’t had one case that we’re aware of being transmitted,” Docherty said. “We think that that is because of a more cautious approach. In March 2020, we shut down on a dime — I really hope we don’t have to do that again, but we have to be prepared if conditions warrant it to move everybody back online.”
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun