Camosun, VIU face budget deficits as international enrolment drops

A drop in tuition revenue and the increased cost of delivering online learning are adding up to large budget deficits for the coming year that have some Island post-secondary institutions looking for new revenue streams.

Camosun College and Vancouver Island University are both expecting deficits this year, with Camosun forecasting a loss of as much as $6.7 million.

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A Camosun spokesperson said the biggest fiscal challenge has been the loss of tuition revenue, primarily from international students, in addition to reduced revenue from services such as the college bookstore, campus rentals and parking.

Camosun’s domestic student enrolment, about 6,687 this winter, is down just two per cent compared to previous years, while international student enrolment is down 26 per cent to around 1,177 for winter 2021.

And while the college will require provincial approval to run a deficit, it says it has no current plans to cut services or classes to deal with its revenue shortfall.

In June of last year, Camosun suspended all continuing education classes, affecting eight positions, while trimming just under 50 jobs from services like its bookstore, parking enforcement and kitchens.

The school is hoping increased enrolment later this year will help it recover financially.

Carol Stuart, provost and vice president academic at Vancouver Island University, said its budget will also be in the red this year as a result of the ­pandemic, although it’s too early to put a dollar figure on the ­forecast loss.

“I can say it will be a deficit year because we have reductions in enrolments, particularly international,” she said, noting tuition represents about 40 per cent of the school’s funding.

As of January, VIU’s student headcount is down about 16 per cent to 10,536, with domestic student enrollment down 13 per cent and international enrollment down 34 per cent.

Stuart also said expenses have increased due to the need to acquire COVID safety ­equipment and cleaning supplies, and the shift to online education.

VIU sees some bright spots, with additional international student registrations expected later this year, some students taking more courses than they may have otherwise and graduate and bachelor programs reporting increased enrolment.

Stuart said the university is focusing on maintaining its educational services while cutting costs where it can — for example, eliminating all staff travel this year.

“There are always two ways to remediate a budget shortfall — raising revenue and cutting expenses,” she said. “So, we have started to explore opportunities to bring in additional students and create focused and necessary programs, for example in health care.”

The University of Victoria, on the other hand, projects its enrolment to increase by 1.3 per cent this year to 20,343 full-time equivalent students.

Domestic undergraduate enrolment at UVic has increased 2.5 per cent, though international undergraduate enrolment is down 2.7 per cent.

According to the school, it’s too early to put a dollar figure on any forecast gain or loss for the year.

The budget process, currently underway, will take into account investments the university has made in remote learning and student and faculty supports, as well as the impact of the slight decrease in international enrolment on revenue, including tuition and ancillary operations, a spokesperson said.

A draft budget is to be presented to governors at the end of March.

A spokesperson for Royal Roads University said the school managed to balance its budget for the 2020-2021 school year, which ends March 31, despite student enrollment being down two per cent.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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