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Every Budget is A Choice 2.0

October 25th, 2018


In 2014, UWOFA dove into Western’s books to reveal their budgeting secrets. We showed that the university had accrued $202 million in operating surpluses from 2010-2014 (click here to read the 2014 report, which includes details about how Western’s budget works).

Four years later, the university’s financial position has only gotten stronger. The university accumulated $485 million in operating surpluses between 2014 and 2018. Add $202 million from the previous 4 years and you get $687 million over the past 9 years. All this while the university continues to impose budget cuts on faculties, which will inevitably result in expanded class sizes, job losses and strains on resources.

How does this kind of accumulation happen? It’s complicated, but basically Western generates more money than it spends, all the while calling for budget restraint.

Western has built up almost $700 million in surplus over the last nine years:

2018 – $131.6 million
2017 – $139.9 million
2016 – $45.9 million
2015 – $76.2 million
2014 – $91.8 million
2013 – $71.3 million
2012 – $42 million
2011 – $42.8 million
2010 – $45.8 million

Total surplus = $687 million

In addition, internally restricted funds have grown from $373 million in 2009 to $1.277 billion in 2018. These are funds that the university can choose to spend on its priorities. Some of the larger components of the balance include legitimate set-asides such as departmental carry-forwards and reserves related to research, capital projects and equipment replacement. However, a portion of the internally restricted funds described as undistributed investment returns increases year after year with no apparent plan to make use of the funds set aside. The current balance in this fund is $282 million at April 30, 2018.

How do the government, students, and members of the public feel about the University generating large surpluses that are not being used to further the academic mission of the University?

Other indicators show that Western is in a VERY STRONG financial position

  • According to the Key Financial Indicators report to the Board of Governors on January 25, 2018, the predicted balance of Western’s operating reserves at April 30, 2018 was $80.3 million, representing an excess of $73 million over Western’s operating reserve target of $7.5 million.
  • In 2015-16, Western’s net operating revenue ratio (a metric that provides an indication of the extent to which an institution is generating positive cash flows over time) was 9.6%, higher than the average of its larger comparators, which was 7.8%, and the average of the sector, which was 6.6%.
  • In February 2018, Standard and Poor’s affirmed Western’s ‘AA” credit, noting the university’s “high levels of cash and available financial resources.” According to the rating agency, given its “independence with regard to ownership and operations”, Western’s “financial assets are sufficient such that it would likely not default on its obligations under a provincial stress scenario in which all government funding was temporarily disrupted”.[1]

The university does not dispute these numbers, in fact, they agree with them. Their bargaining proposals indicate that they are not interested in reinvesting in faculty members or in the core mission of the university.

As a result, 30% of faculty members still lack any meaningful job security and Western ranks 11th in the province for average faculty salaries.

It’s clear that UWOFA members have contributed to Western’s financial strength with our salaries, pensions and benefits that have fallen far behind our colleagues at other universities. But, an organization that hoards money for the future without reinvesting in its people is not expanding, improving, or even maintaining its competitive advantage.

When will Western re-invest in its faculty members and its core mission of high quality teaching and research? When is ‘ENOUGH’ ENOUGH?

** For a more detailed 2018 analysis of Western’s financial position, click here.

[1] Standard and Poor’s, “University of Western Ontario ‘AA’ Ratings Affirmed; Outlook Remains Stable”, February 21, 2018,

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