The Thompson Rivers University board has approved its 2021-2022 budget worth $238 million.
At its Friday (March 26) board meeting, the university put forward a budget with $238.6 million in revenue and $238.4 million in expenses — what university vice-president of administration and finance Matt Milovick called "essentially a balanced budget,” with an expected slim surplus of $147,000.
What led the university to this point has been a series of ups and downs while weathering the storm of the pandemic.
In its year-end for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, TRU ended up with a historically high $20.2-million surplus. A budget with an $8.4-million surplus was recommended for the following year, but after the pandemic hit, that figure sunk to a $6-million deficit, then further to $9 million in the red. But all told, the university now expects to finish the 2020-2021 fiscal year with a surplus of about $3 million.
Some of that is due to what Milovick called "extreme financial prudence measures," but much of it came from higher than expected international student enrolment. The university also sought to save money by slowing down its hiring.
"We didn't spend a lot of money last year. We kept vacancies vacant and any unnecessary spending was delayed or just didn't happen," he said.
Initially, Milovick said, a 30 per cent drop in international students was expected, but in the end, only an eight per cent drop was seen.
In its current winter semester, TRU has enrolled 3,328 international students of a total 8,871 students, down six per cent over last winter.
India remains the number-one source of international students studying at TRU, with 1,432. Other top countries include China (413), Bangladesh (198), Nigeria (169) and Vietnam (96), with the majority studying in the fields of business (1,884) and science (678) and arts (291) in a distant second and third.
International students account for about $60 million of revenue for the university.
Domestic students, meanwhile, come mostly from B.C. (72.2 per cent), followed by Alberta (12.7 per cent) and Ontario (8.7 per cent). In the 2020-2021 budget, domestic student tuition is expected to bring in about $41.5 million.
The remainder of TRU's revenue will come from provincial grants ($88 million), student fees ($12 million) and interest, sales and other revenue ($26 million).
Although students are slated for a full return to on-campus learning in the fall, concerns remain over rising COVID-19 variant cases.
"If the pandemic does take a turn for the worse and variants can't be mitigated, we might see a tumble in our bottom line," TRU provost Christine Bovis-Cnossen told the board.
But built into the budget are some funds to help, including a $5-million return-to-campus fund and a $3.8-million contingency fund.
In its long-term forecast, administrators are anticipating three years of sustainable budgets, but with little room for spending on strategic initiatives and storing away capital for future use.