U of T budget invests in teaching, research and student well-being as sector’s challenges mount

An aerial shot of downtown Toronto with U of T's St. George campus in the centre

(photo by Johnny Guatto)

The University of Toronto is continuing to invest in students – with financial aid, new housing and innovative classroom technologies – and drive forward world-class research, all while taking steps to address headwinds buffeting Canada’s post-secondary sector. 

The 2024-2025 balanced budget, approved by Governing Council on April 4, plans for $3.52 billion in spending during the upcoming fiscal year, an increase of 4.9 percent over the previous period. 

That includes hundreds of millions of dollars for student aid and an estimated extra $125 million related to increases in faculty, staff and librarian compensation following the repeal of Ontario’s Bill 124, which had placed strict limits on public sector pay increases for several years.

While the additional costs related to compensation required money to be redirected from other areas this year, more than $18 million will still be spent on everything from teaching innovations to upgrading classroom technologies, as well as supporting work on sustainability and inclusive research networks that seek to eliminate systematic barriers and advance members’ discoveries on a global stage.

The budget also details significant investments in capital projects that are planned or underway across the three campuses, ranging from student residences to new spaces for learning and research. 

“The investments being made in teaching, learning and research across the University of Toronto’s three campuses make it possible for students and faculty to continue to excel in their chosen fields,” says Trevor Young, U of T’s vice-president and provost. 

“They also underscore the university’s dedication to supporting the well-being and success of all its community members – both in the upcoming academic year and for many years to come.” 

Demand for programs remains strong. Enrolment exceeded 99,000 students last fall and there are plans to increase domestic undergraduate spaces by 2,500 in the next five years, focusing on areas like nursing and medicine, including at the Scarborough Academy of Medicine and Integrated Health (SAMIH). 

However, the university is forecasting slower revenue growth in the years ahead.

“We’re heading into a new planning environment compared to where we have been over the last decade,” says Jeff Lennon, U of T’s assistant vice-president, planning and budget.

He adds that the university continues to balance its budget and has benefited from strong returns on investments which will contribute to revenue growth next year. But he stresses that U of T continues to face increasing financial pressure as a result of “extraordinary increases in compensation for faculty, staff and librarians following the repeal of Ontario’s wage restraint legislation, which has required the redirection of funds from other priorities.” 

That’s in addition to the financial impact of slowing enrolment amid a more complex geopolitical environment, frozen provincial base operating grants and provincial restrictions on domestic tuition, he says.

Tuition fees for Ontario students, cut by 10 per cent in 2019, remain frozen, resulting in a $15-million impact to the university’s plan for next year. The cut and subsequent freezes to tuition have resulted in a $195-million reduction in annual revenue to the university as of 2023 relative to the pre-2019 framework that had allowed for annual domestic tuition increases of three per cent, Lennon says. 

The continuing tuition fee freeze runs counter to the findings of a blue-ribbon panel, which last year recommended that the province lift the freeze on domestic tuition and called for a five-per-cent tuition increase next year for Ontario students and a minimum increase of 2 per cent in subsequent years. Last month, the Ontario government announced that it would provide $1.3 billion over three years to help stabilize the province’s colleges and universities, with particular assistance for institutions with more acute budget shortfalls.

Fees for U of T domestic undergraduate students from outside the province, meanwhile, will see a five-per-cent increase in the upcoming year, while international fees will increase by an average of 2.1 per cent – although the cost to students for the latter will continue to be offset by $90 million that U of T has earmarked for international student scholarships. 

Another potential headwind is the federal government’s changes to international study applications for undergraduate students, which is meant to crack down on institutions that have rapidly recruited large numbers of students from outside Canada. While U of T is not a target of the new rules, the changes may nevertheless create uncertainty for future students, Lennon says. 

Despite these challenges, U of T continues to make priority investments in several areas, including through its University Fund. For example, it is planning to spend $5.1 million to fund various divisional research and teaching initiatives, including: hiring new faculty; supporting programs that help students deal with the rising cost of living in Toronto; experimenting with AI in the classroom, flexible course delivery models and more opportunities for experiential learning; and adding programming around subjects such as data science, machine learning, global leadership, and life sciences.

There are also efforts to enhance access for underrepresented students through outreach programs, mental health supports and financial supports.

As in previous years, student aid remains a top priority in the 2024-2025 budget – with more than $380 million set aside for financial supports – part of the university’s pledge that no domestic student admitted to a U of T program will be prevented from studying because of a lack of financial means. 

The university is expanding its student residences with plans to add about 1,250 new spaces to its current inventory of more than 10,500 spaces across the three campuses. This past fall saw the opening of Harmony Commons at U of T Scarborough and a deal that gives U of T preferential access to CampusOne on the St. George campus. The new Oak House residence on Spadina Avenue is under construction and plans are underway for a new Phase IX Residence at U of T Mississauga

U of T is planning to invest $4.6 billion in 29 capital projects across the three campuses, which are to be funded through a mix of: cash reserves; debt; future cash contributions; and partnerships with donors and governments. Major projects under construction include the Lash Miller expansion and Academic Wood Tower on the St. George campus, as well as the Sam Ibrahim instructional centre and SAMIH building at U of T Scarborough. 

Future projects include the James and Louise Temerty Building on the site of the west wing of the current Medical Sciences Building, a new commerce building, the redevelopment of the 215 Huron site on the St. George campus and a literature, arts and media and performance building at U of T Scarborough. 

“These and other projects reflect the University of Toronto’s commitment to enhancing infrastructure, fostering innovation and enriching the academic experience of students, faculty and staff across the three campuses,” says Scott Mabury, U of T’s vice-president, operations and real estate partnerships.

“Such forward-looking investments play a key role in making sure we remain at the forefront of academia, research and innovation on a global scale.”  

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