Nova Scotia

Cape Breton University posts surplus after first year of pandemic

Institutions like Cape Breton University found their margins in the black at the end of fiscal 2020-21.

Report finds most universities ended the year in the black despite COVID-19

Cape Breton University is pictured on sunny day. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

While COVID-19 walloped many sectors in the country, universities seem to have fared well.

That's according to a recent blog post from Higher Education Strategy Associates, a consulting firm for post-secondary institutions.

Cape Breton University posted a $10.2-million surplus.

Gordon MacInnis, vice-president of finance and operations at CBU, said he believes that no university in the Maritimes posted a deficit during the first year of the pandemic.

Gordon MacInnis says CBU might have the most significant risk profile of any university in Nova Scotia and perhaps in the country. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

With a large portion of students coming from international markets, MacInnis said CBU was expecting a big hit to the pocket books once borders and airports shut down.

"Which really puts our university in the position of having perhaps the most significant risk profile of any university in Nova Scotia and perhaps in the country," MacInnis said.

In January, the Nova Scotia government spent $25 million to help Nova Scotia universities manage the impact of the pandemic.

MacInnis said when CBU was forced to close, it allowed the university to cut operational costs like electricity and food, and move to online learning.

An organization representing students in the province would like to see the windfall profit going toward student assistance. 

Lydia Houck, the executive director of Students Nova Scotia, wants more support on campus. 

Lydia Houck, executive director of Students Nova Scotia, says any surplus posted by universities should go back to students. (Submitted by Lydia Houck)

"We know that mental health centres on campuses and counselling and other supports like that are often really overstretched," she said. "There might be a wait-list to get in and see a counsellor or something like that."

Houck said students often contribute the most financial support to their institutions, so any extra funds should be pumped back to improve student success.

While CBU was able to use the shutdown as an opportunity to improve classroom spaces and for capital projects on campus, Houck would like to see students reaping more benefits.

"Students can't thrive academically in the classroom regardless of what that environment looks like if they don't have the baseline financial support available," she said.

MacInnis said CBU made tech upgrades to classrooms, renovations to the campus bar and accessibility improvements.

With those upgrades, MacInnis said CBU will hold some of its surplus into the years ahead.

"This year, we are figuring we will come in at about a $3.2-million deficit. So we will be drawing on last year's positive results to offset that and really trying to hold on until the international market opens up again."

MacInnis said the university is banking on more reopened borders and visa approvals for next semester to help offset any deficit that might come next year. 

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