Nova Scotia

Cape Breton University dealing with $16M revenue loss due to COVID-19

The president of Cape Breton University says the school is running a $6-million deficit after losing more than $16 million in revenue this year.

President says school now running a $6M deficit

Cape Breton University has had to spend its financial reserve in the face of a revenue crunch brought on by COVID-19. (George Mortimer/CBC)

A large drop in enrolment and loss of international students has left Cape Breton University making cuts and dipping into reserves after losing millions in the pandemic.

Students have been back in class, at least remotely, at CBU for about a month after the school decided to not hold classes on campus.

David Dingwall, CBU president, told CBC's Information Morning in Cape Breton the university has seen a "significant" drop in enrolment of around 2,500 registrations. 

The loss in revenue as of Aug. 31 was $16.6 million, Dingwall said.

"The longer the COVID-19 goes on, the [more] significant impact it has on the university," Dingwall said. "And I think part of my job is to try to steer the car on a road that doesn't go off into the ditch.

"There needs to be certain sacrifices along the way."

A key issue is the loss of many international students, which has been a large sector at CBU over the past few years.

Dingwall said there are a number who were already living in Cape Breton when COVID-19 hit and have remained in the province. Others are studying from their home countries, but the decline is still "quite significant" and not the numbers that he would want.

David Dingwall is the president of Cape Breton University. (Emily Latimer/CBC)

"We're finding that a good number of students are not taking the full load, the five courses," Dingwall said. "Most of them are taking three courses.

"From their perspective, that's probably a good way to proceed, just to see how things are going to be rolled out for them."

But Dingwall said CBU staff and faculty have worked hard throughout the summer to make sure online programs would be high quality.

About 70 students are acting as facilitators. They can assist anyone who is having trouble logging on to a class will be connected to an IT specialist.

How CBU is tackling the losses

The school has made various changes to deal with the losses, including using its entire $6.2-million reserve fund.

CBU has also eliminated vacation liability, cut all work-related travel, discontinued 60 term employees and reduced operational expenses.

Dingwall said there has been a wage rollback, including reduced cost of living for staff and senior administration like himself.

$6 million still needed

As of now, Dingwall said the university still needs $6 million to cover the deficit, but the number could change. He said it depends on whether Canadian borders might open in January, or travel bans lifted for international students.

He also said CBU is waiting to see if the federal or provincial governments will offer funds to help with the "stabilization" of Nova Scotia universities, particularly those with a large international student population.

Dingwall said that would include CBU as No. 1, as well as Saint Mary's, Dalhousie and Mount Saint Vincent.

He said the university will wait to see what the next few months bring before making a decision on continuing with online learning in January or moving to a model that includes in-person classes.

With files from Information Morning Cape Breton