Yesterday we looked at ways to get the teaching budget down. Today, we’re going to look at the other half of the cost equation: all that overhead. And we’re going to look at it by asking the question: how big a cut in overhead would it take to equal the effect of replacing 20% of your credit hours with sessionals (which, as we saw yesterday, reduces overall teaching loads by 17%)?
Recall the equation: X = aϒ/(b+c), where “X” is the total number of credit hours a professor must teach each year (a credit hour here meaning one student sitting in one course for one term), “ϒ” is average compensation per professor, “a” is the overhead required to support each professor, “b” is the government grant per student credit hour, and “c” is the tuition revenue per credit hour. Given that equation, the answer to our question is simple: you need to drop overhead by 17%. But how might one go about achieving a cut that size?
On average across Canada, universities spend about $16,300 per FTE student on things other than academic staff compensation (yes, really). Over half of that – 54% or so – goes to non-academic staff compensation: the professional staff, the cleaners, the lab techs, the janitors, etc. They’re all in there. No other single item comes close. The table below shows the full breakdown. Most of those categories are pretty self-explanatory, except perhaps for “other” operational expenditures (which is mostly long-term space rental and property taxes, with a few miscellanies thrown in for good measure).
Now imagine you want to achieve your 17% reduction without firing anyone, or trying to get them to give back salary – what are your options? Well, to start with, it’s important to acknowledge there’s a bunch of things in here that are difficult to touch. Scholarships, for instance. And not paying interest isn’t too smart.
So that leaves only 35.8% of the whole non-academic budget. Squeezing 17% out of that would be pretty horrific; it would require cuts of as close to 50% as makes no odds. What do you think our universities would look like with half the library acquisition budget gone? Half the travel and communications budget gone? Half the budget for light and heat gone? It’s simply not an option.
All of this, of course, means that balancing budgets this way leaves you with very few options other than reducing labour costs. Say you had a way to reduce your non-academic staff costs by 10% – either by wage rollbacks or layoffs, or some combination of the two: you’d still have to find a way to squeeze 20% out of the rest of the non-academic budget to make the math work. And that would be tough.
Bottom line: there is no easy salvation here. Any serious reduction in costs on this side will require some bloodletting in terms of staff. That’s never easy to stomach.
My wrap-up on all this tomorrow.