Thompson Rivers University will use surplus funds to bridge an expected $9-million deficit in its budget this year brought on by the financial impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic — but the future remains a challenge.
According to vice-president of finance and administration Matt Milovick, the university’s revenues for 2020-2021 will be $45 million less than projected — the largest portion being a $20-million decrease in international tuition.
This year’s budget covers April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021.
TRU is going ahead with a predominantly online-based school year due to COVID-19 and international enrolment is projected to be about 30 per cent lower than what it was last year. Domestic enrolment is expected to take a five per cent hit. Those numbers are the same from the spring.
Milovick said the enrolment picture isn’t any clearer because students still have a few weeks to add or drop classes.
There will be more certainty over enrolment once that date passes.
“We have a sense of it and it’s aligning to where we thought, but we expect there will be some further erosion,” Milovick said.
He said part of the reason for the reduced enrolment could be that domestic students may not want to learn online and are opting for a gap year while the pandemic unfolds.
As for internationals students, the majority of attendees are those already enrolled in programs. While there are some new international students starting their programs, that number is small, Milovick said.
“That’s what creates the problem going forward. If we can’t get a new first-year class of international students, but students that are here eventually graduate and leave, that erodes your overall international enrolment numbers, so it important that we have that renewal,” he said.
Milovick said the loss of another incoming class of international students could mean another $20-million hit to revenues and the need to cut more staff and reduce services, but he is confident domestic enrolment will bounce back next year to offset the international decline.
“Next year’s going to be a challenge,” Milovick said.
Travel restrictions brought on by the pandemic have hindered new international students from entering the country. Canada requires international students to have a valid study permit that was approved before March 18.
While new international students could still attend class from their home countries, Milovick believes many choose TRU in order to travel, gaining a broader experience interacting within the communities they visit.
“We’re lucky to have the ones we have because they’re here, they’ve been unable to get home, unfortunately, and they want to finish up,” Milovick said.
The post-secondary institution relies heavily on its international students, who comprised about a third of the on-campus population last year.
They pay about $18,000 per year in tuition, compared to roughly $5,000 for domestic students.
According to TRU’s fact book for fiscal year 2019-2020, of an on-campus population of 15,150 students last year, 4,441 were international students. While 2,886 international students were enrolled online via Open Learning, only 969 were enrolled in both on-campus and Open Learning. TRU’s international population also comes predominantly from two countries — 52 per cent from India and 29 per cent from China.
Milovick said the university will be looking to balance its budget in 2021-2022 without further eroding its accumulated surplus, which now stands at about $42 million.
He noted the Ministry of Advanced Education, however, has permitted universities to run deficit budgets due to the pandemic.
The university is expecting about $207 million in revenue against $215 million in expenses.
Prior to the pandemic, the university was projecting revenues of about $252 million and expenses of $244 million. The university was also anticipating a surplus budget between $8 million to $12 million, but is now expecting a deficit of $8.7 million.