Higher Education Strategy Associates

The Effects of Freezing Administrative Salaries

I see that the University of Regina council has voted to freeze both administrative salaries and the growth of administrative positions, a recurrence of an ongoing meme which blames those hated administrators for the rising cost of education.  Because Regina’s administrative practices are relatively typical of Canadian universities, I thought I would test-drive this idea: how much have administrative salaries increased, and how much wiggle room would such a freeze provide?

(Full disclosure: In 2010 and 2011, HESA was contracted to the University of Regina; however, no one at U of R has the faintest idea I’m writing this post).

For data, I used the Statscan/CAUBO Financial Information of Universities, which shows that, over the period 2004/5 to 2010/11, Regina’s operating budget rose 35.6%; during that time, total compensation for Instruction (mainly profs’ wages) went up by 33.7%, while compensation in “Administration” went up by 52.4%.

Presto!  Prima facie evidence of bloat, right?

Well, maybe.  The problem with the “administration” category of compensation is that it covers a lot of ground.  It’s not just VPs offices; it also includes expenditures related to grants and contracts administration, co-op program administration, distance education support, as well as instructional technology and audio visual services (for a full explanation of this category, see here).  Increases in spending in those areas probably wouldn’t be seen as bloat by most people.  Unfortunately, Statscan does not break down expenditures to this level of detail, so we’ll stick with that 52.4% number – but remember, it comes with an asterisk.

Whilst administrative compensation growth has been higher than that for professors, bear in mind that the two budgets are very different in size.  Administrative salaries were 9% of operating budget in 2011; academic salaries were 45%.  Growth in academic compensation between 2005 and 2011 was actually greater than the entire administrative compensation budget in 2011.  There simply isn’t enough money in administrative compensation to provide much cushion to faculty if (or when) the money runs out.

That’s not to say one shouldn’t try, of course. Had total administrative compensation risen at “just” the rate of academic staff compensation, the university would have another $1.7 million to play with.  One can do a lot of good with $1.7 million.  But, at the same time, it amounts to only about 1% of the university’s operating budget.

To put it another way, the “excess” spending in administrative compensation over those six years accounts for only 4% of total operating budget growth during that time.  Reducing that compensation is likely a necessary part of any university-wide budgetary solution, but anyone who claims it’s anything like a complete solution needs a math lesson.  Painful cuts elsewhere are unavoidable.

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4 Responses to The Effects of Freezing Administrative Salaries

  1. Devon Anderson says:

    This is very interesting. As a member of the APT (Administrative, Professional and Technical) group of employees at the U of R, I attended the Council meeting last week. It seemed to me that everyone had a different understanding of what was meant by ‘administrative employees’, which is a big problem. As APT, my salary therefore has been part of the cause of this funding deficit or not included in it at all, depending on how the term is interpreted. Obviously, this makes quite a difference as to whether I feel my colleagues value the work I do or not.

    I think it is very unfortunate that we are turning inwards to try to find the culprits for our funding problems. Personally, I think we should be making a united stand to ask various levels of government if they really believe in their rhetoric of the value of knowledge in our society, and if so, why they aren’t funding education properly. Sadly, we seem to have forgotten that united we are stronger.

    • Alex Usher says:

      Hi Devon. Thanks for reading.

      I think the point about everyone having a different understanding about what’s included in “admin” is a very good one. Adding precision to these discussions is always helpful.

  2. Lee Ward says:

    Dear Mr Usher,

    You fail quite inexplicably to mention in this blog that administrative salaries at the University of Regina are now 99.9% of academic salaries. That is to say, for every public dollar spent on teaching, research and service at the UofR another dollar is spent on administration. Is that an effective or efficient use of public money at an institution of higher education?

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