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Vancouver Island University plans years of cuts to tackle $20M deficit

The university, which has campuses in Nanaimo, Parksville, Powell River and Duncan, blames declining revenues in part on flat enrolment numbers
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Vancouver Island University’s Nanaimo campus. VANCOUVER ISLAND UNIVERSITY

A projected $20.2-million deficit has prompted Vancouver Island University to create a three-year mitigation plan that would see VIU return to a balanced budget by the end of the 2026-27 fiscal year.

The university, which has campuses in Nanaimo, Parksville, Powell River and Duncan, blames declining revenues in part on flat enrolment numbers and downward trends in operations such as student housing, food services and on-campus shops.

The pandemic resulted in increased costs to deliver student services for fewer students, the university said in a statement.

The mitigation plan proposes a reduction of academic department expenditures by 10 per cent, and ­non-academic departments by five per cent by the 2025-26 fiscal year.

Cuts in academic departments are expected to begin in the next fiscal year.

Measures already in place under the plan include a staff hiring freeze, staffing reductions and a general overtime freeze.

Any new contract costing $10,000 or more will require a sign-off from the president, provost, or chief financial officer.

The university is considering reducing operating hours, instituting seasonal closures of its satellite campuses, and raising the costs of student housing and on-campus food services, according to a university spokesperson.

Faculty association president Gara Pruesse said many faculty members are shocked by the size of the deficit, given that program fill rates are back to levels seen before under balanced budgets. “So what else has changed?” Pruesse said in a statement

Jean Blackburn, chair of the faculty association’s university budget analysis committee, said faculty are concerned that the across-the-board cuts will affect course offerings and academic supports at VIU.

The faculty association said in a statement a 10 per cent reduction would mean cutting $10 million from university academic units.

VIU’s financial troubles began to show when it first ran a $3-million deficit in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, it said.

“We heard from senior administrators early this week that the drastic budget problem we face today has been at least a decade in the making,” Blackburn said in a statement. “Below-expected enrolments of the last couple of years are not the only culprit here.”

A university spokesperson said while data from the university registrar currently shows higher-than-projected student numbers for the fall semester, real student enrolment has gone down.

Student numbers have decreased from 13,225 to 11,727 this year, according to figures provided by the university.

Emily Huner, VIU’s chief financial officer and vice-president of administration, said in a statement that student support remains a top priority. “I am confident the measures we are putting in place will allow VIU to continue to meet our students’ needs and deliver the high-quality education that they expect.”

The Ministry of Post-Secondary Education says it’s in regular contact with the university regarding the school’s overall financial situation, and has described VIU’s deficit mitigation plan as prudent.

Though universities are responsible for their own financial management, post-secondary institutions cannot incur annual deficits without prior approval from the provincial government.

According to the ministry, five out of 25 public post-secondary institutions in B.C. ran a deficit in the fiscal year of 2022-2023.

mjlo@timescolonist.com

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