Thompson Rivers University is facing potential layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic as enrolment numbers are in doubt ahead of the upcoming fall semester.
TRU vice-president for administration and finance Matt Milovick said the university is expecting a $6-million deficit in its 2020-2021 budget — a reversal from the $12-million surplus projected before the pandemic hit.
“Some of the projections based on COVID, that turned itself on its head. It pivoted by about $18 million in the wrong way,” Milovick said.
The largest revenue stream expected to be impacted by COVID-19 is international student enrolment, which may drop by 30 per cent in 2020-2021, Milovick said.
Domestic student enrolment is projected to drop by about five per cent.
“Given our fairly high international student population and some of the challenges they may experience getting here or coming back, we’re anticipating that we could have a decline in the fall,” Milovick told KTW, alluding to the ongoing restrictions on international air travel due to the pandemic.
Milovick said TRU was projecting $67 million in revenue from international students alone and now anticipates that dropping by as much as $24 million.
The post-secondary institution relies heavily on its international students, who make up about 38 per cent of the on-campus population.
They pay about $18,000 per year in tuition, compared to about $5,000 for domestic students.
Milovick also noted myriad losses due to COVID-19 that will ultimately impact the bottom line.
“You look at our summer business, all the catering, the hotel business, the training business that we lost — that was another huge income loss — refunds for residents, refunds for parking and no parking revenue over the summer, so it’s a whole bunch of things,” he said.
Milovick said the university doesn’t want to conduct layoffs, but will probably be forced to make some reductions in the fall, the extent of which will depend on enrolment.
Last week, TRU president Brett Fairbairn sent out an email to staff, warning of the potential for layoffs despite the university’s board of governors approving a provisional budget for the first six months of the fiscal year that addressed COVID-19.
To address the projected deficit budget, TRU halted discretionary spending, temporarily rescinded the majority of corporate credit cards, froze several capital projects and stopped hiring for all but a few new or vacant positions.
Fairbairn wrote that while those measures were successful, they only take the university so far and it’s time TRU consider what other steps need to be taken, noting some employees’ work has been reduced by COVID-19, while it has increased for others.
“Our discussion with our employee associations has included the potential for temporary unpaid leaves of absence [known as furloughs], reassignment of work, as well as layoffs,” the letter read.
Milovick said nothing is definitive at this point as it is difficult to forecast the exact financial hit until enrolment numbers are confirmed.
TRU’s on-campus student population totalled more than 15,000 students in 2018-2019, of which 4,161 were from abroad.
The university is projecting 3,750 international students attending in 2020-2021 and a total on-campus population of about 10,000 students.