The University of the Fraser Valley. (Darren McDonald/ UFV)

The University of the Fraser Valley. (Darren McDonald/ UFV)

UFV offering employee buyouts in bid to avoid layoffs and balance budget

Buyouts aim to ‘soften potential ramifications’ of pandemic’s financial cost

An earlier version of this story noted that spending on salaries and benefits increased 45 per cent between 2018 and 2020. That calculation was incorrect and based off of 2018’s salary figures only, excluding benefits. The correct figure was 17 per cent.

The University of the Fraser Valley is offering buyouts to experienced staff to attempt to cut costs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The university has developed what it is calling a “retirement incentive program” to try to cut staffing costs as UFV looks to trim its balance sheet.

In an email to employees at the end of November, Marnie Wright, UFV’s associate vice-president, human resources, writes that the university is looking at a “significant budget shortfall” for the next fiscal year.

“This is due to repercussions directly and indirectly attributable to the pandemic,” Wright wrote.

The retirement program – which she says was developed “in consultation” with the UFV Faculty and Staff Association – is meant to “soften possible ramifications for faculty and staff employment,” the email says.

The program is only available to employees between the ages of 55 and 75 with at least 10 years of employment at the university. Those leaving won’t be rehired.

The deadline to apply is Dec. 15, although workers will be able to change their mind before January.

Workers who take a buyout can choose to receive up to two weeks salary for each year of service – up to a full year’s salary. They can also ask to have the money paid into an RRSP.

Dave Pinton, the university’s director of communications, said in an email that UFV expects up to 30 to 40 people will apply for the program. He emphasized participation is voluntary.

“UFV has a strong foundation of financial stewardship and a history of prudent fiscal policy,” he wrote. “However, difficult steps will have to be taken to ensure a balanced position for the next budget year beginning in April 2021.”

“We don’t take any reduction of positions lightly. All possible options to reduce expenditures and raise revenues will be explored with determination and diligence before lay-offs are considered during the 2021 fiscal year.”

Before the pandemic hit, the university had been seeing its staffing costs increase significantly.

Spending on salaries and benefits rose 11 per cent between 2018/2019 and 2019/2020, according to UFV’s most-recent financial statements.

The university spent $103 million on salaries and benefits last year. The financial statements say wage increases, retroactive payments, management pay hikes, and anticipated costs of future union contracts had pushed those figures up.

Seventy per cent of all the university’s spending was on staffing.

UFV’s spending on salaries and benefits increased 17 per cent between 2018 and 2020. Those increases came as UFV and other British Columbia universities have seen dramatic increase in tuition-related revenue that have pushed their revenues – and annual surpluses – dramatically higher.

Much of that money came from the tuition of international students.

The finance vice-president at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops warned last year year about the stability of international enrolments, noting that the surpluses could disappear “overnight.”

That is what appears to have happened. At TRU, more than 80 staff members have been laid off, with that university projecting a $9 million deficit.

RELATED: UFV & other B.C. universities post $340 million worth of surpluses thanks to international student tuition

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