Thompson Rivers University is running a significant surplus thanks to increased international enrolment and unfilled job openings, but lean revenue years are likely on the horizon.
TRU’s 2023-24 proposed budget is calling for an “accidental” surplus of $6.1 million, the university's board of governors was told at a meeting on Friday.
Matt Milovick, TRU's vice-president of administration and finance, said much of the surplus comes from a significant increase in international student admissions — with a 16 per cent increase in admissions and a 13 per cent increase in applications over last year.
“The visa processing efforts internationally, they added 1,200 visa processing officers and that overwhelmed us in terms of our acceptances,” Milovick said at the meeting.
The budget calls for $79 million in international tuition, which was hiked 6.9 per cent in February.
TRU’s strategic enrolment management plan calls for 4,000 international students. The university is currently over its international capacity, with approximately 4,200 international students on campus.
“We're done in terms of our enrolment growth,” said Milovick. “So that means the revenues are going to slow down."
While international enrolment is expected to begin to plateau, domestic enrolments have also been steadily decreasing and are 3.5 per cent lower than last year. Open learning enrolment has also decreased by more than six per cent.
“This is a trend that we've been seeing consistently for the last 10 years,” said Milovick.
“There is some optimism I think in our catchment area. There's more and more students graduating from high school that are eligible for university and we hope that we'll see that translate to students in our seats.”
TRU has budgeted for a $1.1 million increase in domestic tuition from last year, including a two per cent annual rate increase to domestic tuition.
In total, revenue is budgeted to be 10.3 per cent higher than last year while expenditures are predicted to increase by 8.3 per cent.
Compensation expenditures are budgeted to reach an all-time high of 9.7 per cent in the 2023-24 fiscal year.
“Which is concerning and you think about flattening enrolment or flattening revenues going forward,” said Milovick.
Payroll is expected to increase in part due to vacant positions being filled at the university.
As it currently sits, there are 100 staff vacancies at TRU. Milovick said the proposed budget reflects some of those jobs being filled over the coming fiscal year.
“Those accidental surpluses are going to start to decline as our revenues flatten and those vacancies are filled,” he said.
TRU President Brett Fairbairn said that the university has run large surpluses in previous years.
“In recent years where we've run surpluses, it's been very substantial due to us planning to spend money and not succeeding in spending, especially because of difficulties with the hiring and retention of people,” Fairbairn said during the meeting.
The proposed budget is $5.2 million higher than the current budget. Most of the surplus — $4 million — is earmarked for capital projects.
Current 2023-24 capital commitments include starting a low-carbon district energy system project, a fire science and emergency management institute, several smaller projects and routine maintenance and repairs.
"So steady state budget this year has been increased by about $21 million, which is an 8.3 per cent increase," said Milovick.
"Domestic enrolment and recruitment is, I think, a top priority."
The proposed budget was approved by the board.