Facing unprecedented financial challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Saskatchewan is asking the province to keep its funding stable.
The U of S is required to submit an operations forecast to the Ministry of Advanced Education each year before the provincial budget.
For the 2020-21 fiscal year, the university is “realizing significant financial consequences as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the document says.
Absent any further action, the forecast warns the university’s operating fund deficit will grow by an estimated $20 million a year, based on current assumptions.
The university proposes to offset some of the financial burden by hiking tuition for the 2021-22 school year — four per cent for undergraduates and graduates, and four per cent for the international graduate student differential.
Currently, domestic graduate students pay $1,420 and international graduate students pay $2,243. The differential increase would see international student grad tuition sitting at approximately $2,422 next year.
The university did not make anyone available for comment on Friday.
In a statement, vice-president of finance and resources Greg Fowler said the university is requesting stable funding because it “anticipate(s) continuing to be able to manage the financial challenges,” and appreciates that the province is facing pressures of its own.
Last year, the U of S requested stable funding of $343.7 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year, despite claiming to need an additional $17.4 million to continue operating at the status quo.
It ultimately received a one per cent increase to its base operating grant, a total of $344.6 million.
The provincial government operating grant represents about a third of the university’s total revenues, which were $1 billion in 2019-20.
The document, submitted to the ministry in August 2020, was based on assumptions that operations would return to normal in January 2021 and that enrolment for the 2020-21 school year would remain at last year’s levels.
The forecast also assumed there would be no net changes in staffing from 2019-20 levels.
While ir didn’t request additional funds for 2021-22, the forecast suggests stark choices ahead for the university, which faces an operating fund deficit of $36.1 million.
“In 2020-21, the operating fund would be balanced without the impacts of COVID-19; as such, the operating fund deficit is fully attributable to COVID-19 impacts,” the document states.
The university is also expecting it will start the fiscal year in April with its unrestricted reserves sitting at a deficit of $31 million — a historic low.
While it reported savings related to effectively shutting down campus in response to the pandemic, it claimed these were all consumed by spending that was necessary to quickly pivot to online learning, establish safety protocols in the limited spaces where people are still allowed on campus, and provide supports for staff and students, including freezing tuition at last year’s levels.
The university says it has disbursed $1.2 million in non-repayable crisis aid to students, $540,000 of which came from a new process where employees were able to reallocate a portion of their professional development funds.
While operations plans for the future, including a return to campus, are uncertain, the document says the university has “streamlined administrative functions,” including permanently laying off about 95 employees since May.
About 300 employees who were unable to work remotely between May and October — largely in ancillary and facilities operations, including trades, custodial staff and retail and culinary services staff — have been temporarily laid off, saving the university about $1.5 million.
For those employees, a reduction of temporary pay supports or permanent layoffs could be on the horizon.
For the time being, additional layoffs due to reduced campus activities and services are not anticipated for the fall term, Fowler said.
College of Dentistry identified for capital spending
The document identifies renewing the College of Dentistry’s facilities in order to meet accreditation requirements as a key capital need.
The facilities require “significant upgrades,” estimated at $16 million, for a list of requirements that includes building code and accessibility upgrades and improving clinical learning and student spaces.
Due to the pandemic, the college lost $580,000 in revenue and will require an additional $644,000 to enable its dental clinics to meet new health protocols.
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer is expected to table the 2021-22 provincial budget on April 6.
U of S reserves facing projected $31 million deficit
U of S asks for same level of provincial funding, despite $17.4 million need
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