Strategic investments to proceed despite high energy costs

Last week, the University Council approved the budget for 2023. TU/e is expecting to spend 10 million euro more on energy next year. Nonetheless, the strategic investments the Executive Board announced back in May are to proceed as planned, putting the 2023 budget deficit at 27.3 million. Part of this will be covered by the university’s own capital (including reserves), which has grown in past years thanks to positive net results.

photo Frederica Aban / iStock

No, chair of the University Council’s financial committee Harold Weffers is not greatly concerned about the projected 27.3 million deficit for the coming year, but does hasten to add “that the University Council did note there’s an increased risk.” Last week, the UC approved the budget for 2023. Weffers explains: “In the past years the university often worked with a negative budget, although the deficit amount was never quite this high. But at the end of every financial year we saw that millions of euros had been left unspent, one important reason for this being that outstanding vacancies had not been filled.” In 2021, for example, 15.4 million was left. At the end of the running year, this amount is expected to be 9.9 million.

Weffers: “In response to the Spring Statement of the Executive Board earlier this year, the UC had already approved a proposal for a framework outline of the budget, which projected a deficit of around 15 million.” Some costs, both anticipated and unanticipated, have now been added to the tally, says Weffers, “with the anticipated part relating to investments for which TU/e had already received the financial means, for instance those from the national education program, but which were put off until 2023. So those financial means will be covered by the reserves in a budget neutral manner. And then there are the costs that were not anticipated at the time, which have to do with the increased energy rates, resulting in a projected extra expenditure of 10 million euro.”

Strategic investments

In spite of the rising energy costs the university will have to pay in 2023, the Executive Board will not make any concessions to the strategic investments laid down in the 2023 framework letter (only available on intranet) back in spring. According to the budget notes, those investments are to 'give substance to the ambitions we have in the areas of research and education and lighten the workload of professors.' The Executive Board is also counting on extra funds from sector plans and ‘rolling grants’, which basically constitute working capital for researchers that is meant to make the system a bit less competitive.

Weffers says the UC is happy with these investments and with the Executive Board’s early indication of how they want to spend those extra funds in a strategic manner. The extra investments worth 17.3 million are intended for the hiring of extra academic staff, for creating a teacher to student ratio of 1 to 18 for all programs and departments, and for expanding research facilities and dovetailing digitization opportunities, for instance in the form of digital lab facilities. This should prepare the university for a growing number of students, which the Executive Board thinks will reach 14,600 by 2026.

Scale jump

The budget notes also make mention of a seeming contradiction in the presented budget. 'We have to keep investing in education, research and valorization to realize our strategic ambitions, but at the same time a negative result is projected for the years to come.' Because beyond 2023 significant deficits are projected as well: 22.8 million in 2024 and 17.4 million in 2025. 'This requires measures to stay financially healthy over several years. (…) If we don’t invest in a timely manner, we won’t be able to properly deal with the growth (to 14,600 students, ed.), or the scale jump after that.'

It has also been pointed out that covering deficits from the reserves is not something you can do for an unlimited period of time. At some point in the coming years the deficits will have to be brought down, which is why the long-term budget projects a deficit of just 4.2 million in 2027.

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