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First Faculty Council Discusses Tuition and Budget

On October 2, the law school held its first Faculty Council meeting of the 2019-2020 academic year. The majority of the meeting was spent discussing Students’ Law Society (SLS) updates, tuition, and the faculty budget.

SLS Updates

SLS President Morgan Watkins (3L) began by briefly recapping O-Week and the SLS fall elections. Watkins primarily discussed updates to the SLS budget as this is the first year that student society levies are no longer mandatory for Ontario universities. In all, 8% of students opted out of the SLS fee, and 15% of students opted out of the Public Interest Fellowship Fee. Watkins stated that, based on her conversations with other student society presidents, the opt-out rate was very low in comparison (median opt-out rate of 22%). 

Lisa Cirillo, Executive Director of Downtown Legal Services, stated that University of Toronto Students’ Union and Scarborough Campus Student Union had a total opt-out rate of 19.4% for the fall semester but that this number could change for the winter semester.

However, Watkins noted that the SLS had negotiated a fee-transfer agreement with Rotman’s Graduate Business Council (GBC). GBC will pay the SLS half of the student fees that it receives from 3L and 4L JD/MBAs, since JD/MBAs only pay GBC fees during their third and fourth years. Watkins predicted that the transfer payment would likely account for the 8% cut to the SLS’s budget as the GBC fees are significantly higher at around $47.50 per semester, compared to the $20 per semester that JD students pay.*

Budget and Tuition

Dean Edward Iacobucci began the budget presentation with the University of Toronto’s overall budget in order to give context to the Faculty of Law’s specific budget. Dean Iacobucci stated that although authority over the law school budget rests with the Office of the Dean, it is subject to the approval of the Provost and the Governing Council. In effect, the law school is “two steps down” when it comes to control over the budget.

For the University at large, 63% of its current revenue is made up from tuition/fees, 24% is from operating grants, and 13% is from other revenue. As for expenditures, 59% is from faculty and staff compensation, 9% from student aid, 8% from capital and equipment, 7% from occupancy costs, 4% from the pension special payment, and 14% from other expenses. 

Despite cuts to domestic tuition, Dean Iacobucci stated that U of T is still projecting revenue growth. He explained that U of T has been aggressively increasing international tuition in recent years, and international tuition was increasingly indispensable to U of T’s overall revenue. However, international tuition has not been a meaningful source of growth for the law school as the Faculty lacks significant international student enrollment, and domestic and international tuition are more similar. For example, a Bachelor of Arts is roughly  $6,100 for domestic students versus $53,000 for international students, whereas for the JD program tuitions are about $34,600 thousand and $54,000 respectively. 

The University’s increased reliance on international tuition for revenue is in large part due to significant decreases in operating grants over the past twenty years. In the 2006-2007 academic year, operating grants and international tuition made up 45% and 7% of the University’s total revenue, respectively. In 2019-2020, revenue from operating grants have decreased to 24% whereas international tuition revenue has increased to 34%. This trend is anticipated to continue for the foreseeable future. Domestic tuition, on the other hand, dropped from 26% to 21% in the same time period, and will likely continue to decrease given next year’s domestic tuition freeze.

Dean Iacobucci also brought up the transition to performance-based funding with the Strategic Mandate Agreement 3 (SMA3) for Ontario Universities and Colleges. As indicated in the SMA3 discussion paper, the goal of SMA3 “is to reframe postsecondary education funding to reduce reliance on enrolment growth, strengthen the outcomes focus, recognize demographic changes and align with government priorities.” This approach deviates from the traditional per-capita funding that the Province has relied on since the 1970s and instead shifts the focus of funding to graduate skills,  job outcomes, and economic and community impact. Dean Iacobucci indicated that this is potentially good news for U of T, although it is unclear what metrics the Province will rely on and whether additional funding will be granted for outperforming targets. 

Dean Iacobucci then moved on to discussing the law school budget, which is at $45.1 million this year. The school’s revenue is comprised of tuition (55%), operating grants (14%), university fund and transfers (14%), recoveries (7%), endowments (7%), and other (3%). The university fund transfer is an inter-university equalization payment where every faculty contributes 10% of its revenues to the University, which then redistributes the amount. The Faculty of Law is a net beneficiary of the university fund, which makes up 7% of its total expenses. Other expenses include compensation of faculty and staff (54%); university wide costs, which includes everything from facilities to the library system, (20%); financial aid (12%); and other expenses (7%). 

Dean Iacobucci stated that the Faculty has no control over expenses such as university wide costs, university fund contribution. He further stated that the school has some discretion over staffing levels, and, unfortunately, in response to the budget cuts and in an attempt to reduce costs, the Faculty “made painful and difficult decisions to cut staff over the summer.” Other measures included discontinuing the Internationally Trained Lawyers program and establishing a new agreement with central libraries. 

Dean Iacobucci elaborated on other responses to the budget challenge this year, such as: increasing enrollment in the GPLLM program, which “has mitigated the revenue cut this year, but by no means killed it;” lobbying the university to change its budget model; increasing fundraising efforts; monetizing space at the law school; efforts to teach in the undergraduate space; and selling e-courses, such as legal methods, to non-students. 

Watkins finished off the meeting with the annual SLS President’s speech on tuition. Watkins acknowledged the difficulties that the 10% cut to tuition has created for the Dean, but noted that “it is a welcome change for students.” Among the points discussed, Watkins criticized the structural deficit of the law school, raised issues of inaccessibility due to high tuition, and emphasized the effect of debt burden and financial constraints on students’ mental health and career objectives. At the end of the speech, Watkins asked the Dean to consider three proposals centred around increased dialogue, a tuition freeze, and setting realistic expectations for students regarding the “misleading” effective tuition.

*Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the GBC fees were $40 per semester and only paid by fourth year JD/MBAs.

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