Financial Information of the University of Alberta, Graphs and Analysis

I’ve published income and expenditure graphs for 2000-2008 for all Canadian universities and colleges. Read on for background information and analysis of the University of Alberta’s graphs.


In the face of provincial government budget cuts and bad investments, the University of Alberta is looking for more money. The government prevents them from raising tuition faster than inflation, so they’re planning a new $550 student fee, and “market modifiers” that will do nasty things to the tuition of students in professional programs.

So where is the money going? This is the question asked by a Maclean’s article written in January. Based on the Financial Information of Universities and Colleges (FIUC, an annual report published by the Canadian Association of University Business Officers (CAUBO)), it paints a grim picture for undergraduates across Canada. As tuition has risen over the last 20 years, the proportion of budgets allocated to instruction has dropped, while the proportion allocated to administration and research has risen.

I and other Student Worker Action Group (SWAG) members resolved to take a look at what FIUC could tell us about the U of A. Since the source databases are available from CAUBO, it was relatively simple to generate graphs for all institutions in the dataset. (See the full graphs for the University of Alberta, or continue reading for the highlights.)


The proportion of total income going into the general operating budget (the fund used for instruction, libraries, student services - the things that we undergraduates care about) has dropped significantly:

Tuition has decreased as a percentage of the general operating budget, but other student fees have risen accordingly:

Apparently the University needs better investment advice:

The investment loss in 2002-03 is more than 10% of the entire budget! The university also blames investment losses for its projected deficit. Why is the university so dependent on investment?


Less off the general operating budget is being spent on professors, and more is being spent on benefits and non-instruction staff:

Looking at the entire budget, the university appears to be outsourcing more and more of its work; the proportion of the budget spent on externally contracted services has more than doubled:

And the actual dollar amount has quadrupled, from $13 million to $53 million.

My favorite graph is this one, produced from the FIUC data, the university’s financial reports, and projection of fee growth rates:

The university’s income from tuition has risen steadily, as has the expenditure allocated for instruction. Fair enough (but note that the tuition line does not include the hefty “market modifiers” that have been proposed).

The combined salaries of the university’s president and vice-presidents (the purple line) have more than tripled in the past decade.

The red line (and its projection) is the university’s per-student income from non-tuition student fees. (Note that this does not include fees collected for other agencies, e.g. the U-Pass or the SU health plan). Including the new $550 fee for 2010-11, non-tuition student fees will have almost quadrupled.


I’m no expert (and my eyes are tired and sore), so I invite you to draw your own conclusions. There may be further insights hidden in the full graphs.

It’s clear that government limitations on tuition have driven the university to seek other ways to extract money from students. The new fee is simply a particularly blatant example of this.

Students should not be treated as the university’s personal piggy bank, to be turned upside down and shaken whenever a bad investment leaves the university scrambling for cash.

These figures would be even less pleasant if they included FIUC data going back to the 80s.

What should we do about it? The march to the legislature on the 18th is a start, but I’m doubtful of the effectiveness of one-off protests. Past evidence suggests that our representatives in the Students’ Union have little power to affect university decisions on these matters. Those of us with the Student Worker Action Group are discussing ways to confront the university directly, but this can only work once we’ve built a broad base of support.

(A much lesser issue is that we should pressure our university to publish this data in consistent machine-readable forms so that this kind of analysis is easier. I have spent a ton of time on this, I hope you get something out of it.)