Operating Budget Town Hall - April 23, 2024

Remote video URL


With the limited hiring program, responsibilities and deliverables will be distributed across existing employees. How will the institution prevent burnout? Will there be a reprioritization of initiatives because of staff shortages?

The results of our recent Employee Engagement Survey told us that our employees care deeply about giving their best effort, but that we don’t all feel like we currently have the right level of resources – and that feeling will be put to the test in the coming months.

We need to look out for our teams and one another as we make difficult choices. We’re asking leaders to help their teams focus on core operational work and priorities. We’re also asking everyone to consider how we can leverage standards and new technologies to avoid the exceptions that require so much more effort. By doing the highest priority work, and doing it as efficiently as possible we can be effective with the resources we have – and we all have a role to play in identifying how we do that. Through workforce planning, HR is helping departments develop a people plan that will support teams throughout the hiring freeze to ensure that they have the capacity to fulfill core functions.  

With increased workloads, the potential of layoffs, and an uncertainty regarding raises and promotions due to the operating budget deficit, how does the University plan to retain talent?

We are a world-renowned University because of the people who come here to live, learn and work. Any time we are faced with difficult financial headwinds, we know we need to rely on our people who care so deeply about this institution – and we need to care for one another too. We want to encourage units and departments to create an environment that is engaging for employees, and HR is a resource to help you achieve that. We encourage you to reach out to your HR partners for support. The University is also looking at ways to strengthen our talent development throughout the employee lifecycle and HR is also focused on building out a Strategic Talent and Performance framework. We hope to share more information on this in the coming year as the project advances. The University is continuing to provide salary increases informed by the market.

Has leadership considering becoming leaner at the top, decreasing the number of senior positions with the titles of associate vice presidents and associate provosts?

The University is going through transformative change. It’s clear that the funding model that has been in place for decades is no longer reliable. As a result, we need to rethink existing operations, processes, and revenue models. We need to ensure that we have the right people, in the right place, with the right level of accountability to make changes that will help us navigate these uncertain times and build a resilient University of Waterloo.

Does the University have plans to generate more revenue streams to secure a financially stable future?

Yes. The focus on revenue optimization/generation will focus on two areas: work to take place on enrolment management and curriculum management, and work to take place on opportunities related to our existing land resources. Sustainable enrolment management and curriculum management approaches are critical to support our core academic mission. Addressing these important areas will require significant local consideration of strategies and decision-making, as well as central support to explore new models of revenue-generating, high-quality academic program development, and our related processes. In this way, the University will continue to look at strategic ways to optimize existing revenue activities and produce new funding streams.

Our infrastructure and Campus Master Plan will include approaches that enable the monetization of these University resources to provide revenue streams that are capable of supporting project spending and external borrowing costs for priority capital projects, improvements, and deferred maintenance.

Other revenue generating ideas should be shared with your VP/Dean and will go through a due diligence and prioritization process; we need to focus on prioritization and there are a number of considerations before pursuing new revenue generating ideas.

What advice would you give to budget owners on where to make cuts with minimal impact to service levels?

Continuing to provide exceptional service to our students remains a priority as we seek ways to become more efficient, including developing or refining processes to improve efficiency and keep service levels high. We will continue to find ways to save costs and find efficiencies through coordination and rationalizing priorities. The integrated planning approach that is being developed is key, as it will offer opportunities to optimize and coordinate planning and spending. A shift in our approach to operational coordination is required, which relies on those with local budget decision oversight looking critically at how they allocate discretionary budgets (such as spending on travel and internal events), and all employees thinking about how to optimize individual practices. These changes will look different across the institution and will depend on the nature of the work. However, we all must begin to think critically about our daily practices and view them against the priorities of our institution.

Why are costly renovations and investments in infrastructure happening during this time of fiscal constraint (e.g., renovations in Needles Hall, changes to parking infrastructure)?

As multi-year planning continues, it will be important to address areas that can provide further alignment in processes and strategies for expense reduction. An integral component in this planning will be up-front priority investments to facilitate longer-term benefits. Investments need to continue to be made to move the institution forward. Carefully planned and continued investments in our physical and IT infrastructure are important to help us achieve our Waterloo at 100 vision. We need to continue making these investments to modernize infrastructure, improve efficiency, meet carbon reduction goals, and more. These improvements also help us in the long run by reducing operational costs. We are currently reviewing all renovation projects to ensure that we have the resources from a design and construction perspective, and that we’re prioritizing projects that impact our deferred maintenance commitments.

How will budget cuts affect student services, scholarships, and awards? Will housing fees continue to rise?

Our top priority is delivering the best experience for our students, in both our education and services. All budgetary measures that are being taken are to maintain the level of quality that they’re used to. In terms of fees, we understand the financial pressures that students are under in a time when all costs are going up, and our longer-term plans see an increase in housing fees due to capital costs and deferred maintenance. But we will continue to provide as much support as possible to students during their time here through bursaries and other financial assistance. We encourage them to reach out to campus services for support. In general, we do not intend to make significant changes to centrally funded scholarship budgets, but in some areas like Grad Studies, we have reprioritized the budgets we have available to ensure we are spending the money we have available appropriately.

How long will the limited hiring program last and are layoffs inevitable?

We expect to continue with the limited hiring program for some time while we work through the budget challenges. However, the strategies we’re applying in workforce planning provide ongoing value as we develop a long-term people plan. We are taking a measured approach to budgetary constraints as there are ongoing uncertainties influencing the University sector. These are difficult times, but layoffs are a last resort. We must ensure that we have the capacity to deliver on the University's mission and deliver world-class education and services.

Will early retirement packages be an option for eligible staff?

At this point, all options are being discussed. We are currently looking into what that will look like and will provide more details once the program details are finalized.