PEI

UPEI 'not safe' from financial pain of international student slowdown: report

UPEI is not among the institutions most at risk financially as the pandemic keeps new international students out of Canada due to the pandemic, but it will likely suffer, says a report by Higher Education Strategy Associates.

‘There’ll be a loss at UPEI’

Last year, about 20 per cent of UPEI's student body came from outside Canada. (CBC)

UPEI is not among the institutions most at risk financially as the pandemic keeps new international students out of Canada due to the pandemic, but it will likely suffer, says a report by Higher Education Strategy Associates.

As part of its annual report on the state of higher education, released Monday, the research group looked at which schools' bottom line will be hurt by the federal government's ban on new international students coming to Canada.

"UPEI is not closest to the danger zone, put it that way, but it's not safe either," CEO Alex Usher told Island Morning host Mitch Cormier. "The more international students you have, the tougher it's going to be this year."

UPEI has a relatively high number of international students, Usher said, at 20 per cent. But its four-per-cent budget surplus is also relatively good, putting it in a better position to ride out the pandemic.

In July, UPEI said its international student enrolment numbers were still high. "If students got their visas before March 18, it's possible for them to travel," Jerry Wang, director of recruitment at UPEI's international student office, told CBC at that time. 

He added: "There are quite a few conditions attached to that."

Usher said final enrolment numbers for universities will not be issued for weeks, and in the meantime schools across the country are negotiating with international students to keep them enrolled, even if they are studying online from abroad.

Fees from international students represent between eight and 10 per cent of UPEI's revenue, said Usher.

"There'll be a loss at UPEI. There's no doubt in my mind," he said.

The biggest factor determining the financial pain for Canadian institutions is how long the prohibition on new international students will last, says Alex Usher. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

"The real question is how long does this last? I think institutions can get through one term, maybe two, of losing international students. If we're still in this position next fall, if the vaccine doesn't work or it's not very effective or we can't get enough doses out or those kinds of things, I think you will start to see some real problems."

Two Nova Scotia institutions at higher risk

In Atlantic Canada, Usher said the two universities most at risk financially are St. Anne and Mount St. Vincent, both of which had student bodies comprised of more than 20 per cent international students — and both of which were already running deficits.

Vulnerable institutions could face pressures to merge or could even close, said Usher.

The University of Cape Breton, with 60 per cent of its student body from outside Canada, is in a better position because it has some cash reserves, he said.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning

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