Where is UBC’s $44.6 million Excellence Fund going?

As UBC’s Excellence Fund continues to grow, stakeholders are becoming more concerned about the fund’s size and where the money is being spent.

The UBC Excellence Fund (EF) was created in February 2016 to realize the school’s ambition of becoming “Canada’s best university over the next decade,” according to this year’s annual report.

The fund, which draws its revenue from incremental increases in international tuition, is dedicated to providing significant resources to “advance academic excellence” and “strengthen UBC in the years to come.”

Since its creation in 2016, increases in international tuition and higher international student enrolment have expanded the fund from $6.3 to $44.6 million in just two years.

Where is it going?

The EF is divided up into four key areas:

Student Support and Student Experience

Roughly $7.3 million of the EF has been marked for student support and student experience. Within the amount, $5 million is committed towards the Blue and Gold Campaign, which aims to provide $100 million in aid for students. An additional $1.2 million has been allotted to the Tuum Est Awards over a period of four years.

This section of EF funding also finances Graduate Fellowship Programs, such as the International Doctoral Fellowship and the Doctoral Recruitment Fellowship. Remaining funds have been set towards the development of a fourth collegium space for commuter students and UBC’s Youth in Care Tuition Waiver Program.

Faculty Recruitment and Retention

The $14.6 million allocated for faculty recruitment and retention is geared towards UBC’s initiatives to recruit and retain “exemplary faculty.”

Part of this section of funding aims to create more attractive faculty packages including an updated Housing Action Plan, as housing availability is “one of the main barriers the University faces in retaining and attracting faculty to Vancouver” according to UBC’s 2018/2019 budget. This funding also supplements the Distinguished University Scholars Program, which recognizes achievements of the faculty in areas of research excellence. Research and salary support for President’s Excellence Chairs and Canada 150 Research Chairs is also sustained by the EF.

Research Clusters and Infrastructure

With a grand allotment of $21.8 million, research support constitutes the largest chunk of the EF.

From this funding, $5 million went towards research clusters including Advanced Research Computing, Sequencing and Bioinformatics, and Indigenous research units. Another $32 million has been committed over the next three years to build digital research infrastructure

Investment commitments have been made to establish the e@UBC initiative and a network of integrated programs supporting UBC students, alumni, faculty and staff.

Strategic Plan Implementation

As in the previous years funds have been set aside as “non-targeted funding” – approximately $4 million – to retain the university’s ability to “capitalize on opportunities as they arise."

“We will do better”

As the EF’s scope and size continue to expand, some stakeholders worry about where the money is going.

The current decision making model for the Excellence Fund means the President and the Provost’s office are hypothetically able to fund particular choice programs without consulting constituents — which has some stakeholders concerned.

Budget recommendations for Strategic Plan Investments are made by the Provost after consulting with the Committee of Deans, the Senate Budget Committee, the President’s Research Advisory Committee and the AMS, according to the terms of reference submitted to the Board of Governors in February 2016.

But AMS VP Academic and University Affairs Max Holmes said that “consultations in the past years have been lacking with the AMS” and that student priorities aren’t being addressed.

“If this is all coming from international tuition ... what benefits are the international students going to see?” said Holmes. “... That’s something that the university hasn’t done a great job of telling its story about.”

David Shorthouse, UBC’s executive director of academic initiatives, acknowledged that this has been an issue, but pledged to consult the AMS in the future.

“We didn’t do, frankly, a very good job last year,” he said. “We had a timing issue and that’s on us — not on the students at all. I’ve committed to Max that this will not happen again this year.

“We will do better.”

Board of Governors faculty representative Charles Menzies said that the lack of consultation around the EF is a structural issue that isn’t exclusive to the AMS and UBC.

“When the money sits in the collegiate office and it is controlled by an executive structure … it lends power to the centre in a way that might not really be in the best interests of the overall good of the university,” said Menzies.

Instead, he advocates for a “classic structure” where decisions on funding are made at the department level and carried forward by faculty who are part of the decision-making units.

While the university doesn’t expect to be restructuring the EF any time soon, students and faculty stakeholders alike hope that the fund’s mission and impact becomes clearer.

“What we’re hoping for this year is to have a more transparent understanding of the impact of the EF on student life and how the university is really going to provide what that looks like,” said Holmes.