Trinity is looking to slash its capital expenditure by €20 million over the next 18 months through a series of budget cuts that could delay completion of its flagship Engineering, Environment and Emerging Technologies (E3) Institute and see its Law School project deferred until 2023, The University Times has learned.
Excerpts of confidential documents – presented at College Board last week and obtained by The University Times – reveal Trinity’s plans to “conserve cash” by delaying, deferring and potentially cancelling capital projects, amid concerns about the financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic.
The review – devised by Trinity’s newly formed Emergency Financial Management Group – concludes a €20 million saving target on capital projects will be necessary over the next 18 months, and has put all of Trinity’s capital commitments, worth €91 million, “under review”.
The move signals a drastic change of tack for a College that has placed huge emphasis on capital projects in recent years, and an acceptance of the biting financial climate Trinity is set to face in the coming years.
Two of College’s most ambitious projects – the E3 Learning Foundry and Trinity’s €1 billion Technology and Enterprise Campus (TTEC) – are likely to face major setbacks, with College hoping to have cut €13.9 million from E3’s overall budget by September 2021 and the timing of the whole TTEC project under review.
Meanwhile, construction on the new Law School could now be deferred – saving College €31 million next year – while Printing House Square may not be completed until 2021. College’s other major accommodation development at Dartry could also face delays, with capital spending on the Trinity Hall site to be largely pushed out to 2021.
Trinity declined to comment on the specifics of its capital spending plans when contacted by The University Times. Media relations officer Catherine O’Mahony wrote in an email that it “is our general practice not to comment on confidential documents”.
The E3 Learning Foundry could be “subject to some delays” if the cutbacks – totalling €8.3 million this financial year and €6.8 million by September 2021 – are implemented. The multi-million budget cut would mean that construction on the site could still go ahead – unlike some other projects, the viability of which is “under review”, according to the document.
But the cutbacks would amount to another setback for a project – already delayed until 2023 due to the pandemic – that had been forced even before the virus hit to cut its projected spend by €55 million over the next 30 years.
The report suggested deferring the capital element of the Law School, which College had hoped to have finished by 2025, until 2023 – a move that would save Trinity the €31 million it budgeted for the project over the next year.
The school was set to be built near the Samuel Beckett Theatre and funded through a combination of government investment and philanthropy.
The Emergency Financial Management Group – set up to manage the financial risks of the coronavirus – consists of the vice-provost, chief financial officer and chief operating officer.
Its report said Trinity’s capital commitments are under “full review”, in order to “identify deferrals/cancellations”.
The timing of TTEC – which was set to be developed over the next 10 years and situated in Grand Canal Quay – is under review. Nearly €40 million budgeted for TTEC over the next two years remains in place, but the group’s financial mitigation plan is yet to confirm the actual fate of the development.
The much-delayed Printing House Square could face further setbacks, with the group’s review flagging it for deferral until 2021.
A further accommodation project, in Trinity Hall, has had its budgeted spending pushed out from 2020 to 2021 and has been earmarked for further review.
The presentation acknowledges that the crisis is “evolving and developing on a daily basis” and say that “forecasts have changed and will continue to change”.
It states that that the virus will have a “disproportionate impact on universities versus other sectors in education”.
Last week, in response to a plea from the Higher Education Authority for a “significant government intervention in the form of a financial support package”, the government warned that it could not cover financial losses faced by third-level colleges due to the pandemic.
In an op-ed in the Irish Times in April, Prendergast said that the coronavirus is likely to “almost wipe out” the income universities make from international student fees.