Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

As UVic makes cuts over budget shortfall, faculty and unions call for BC to change its model

Job losses stem from Island universities’ overreliance on international student money, open letter argues

Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

As UVic makes cuts over budget shortfall, faculty and unions call for BC to change its model

Job losses stem from Island universities’ overreliance on international student money, open letter argues

Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

As UVic makes cuts over budget shortfall, faculty and unions call for BC to change its model

Job losses stem from Island universities’ overreliance on international student money, open letter argues

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As UVic makes cuts over budget shortfall, faculty and unions call for BC to change its model
Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

A cold wind has been blowing across the pastoral University of Victoria (UVic) campus this spring. But the chill hasn’t come from lingering winter weather.

UVic applied a partial hiring freeze as of fall 2022, which it calls a "pause and review," which was lifted on Jan. 12. As of this April 1, it has instituted an across-the-board 4% budget cut following approval of a new three-year plan and budget on March 28. 

The university has been contending with a $17 million shortfall for 2022-23, it said in statements last September, this February and in its recently released budget plan. It faults, in part, the effects of the pandemic, which led to a drop in enrolment at UVic and across Canadian universities. Foreign student enrolment in particular was low in 2022-23, and that revenue loss has affected this new budget and plan.

By law, UVic can’t go into the red. BC’s Balanced Budget Act does not allow its universities to run deficits without provincial approval. That approval was granted early in the pandemic, but has now been rescinded.

The last time UVic faced budget cuts was during the 2014/15 school year.

UVic asked all units across campus to decide how they would trim their budgets. Those most affected by the cuts are staff and faculty. 

[Disclosure: The author of this piece has previously worked for UVic and for Royal Roads University, but was not employed at a university during the 2022-23 school year.]

“Some long-term sessional lecturers lost some or most of the courses they have taught for years,” said Lynne Marks, President of the UVic Faculty Association and a professor in History, “and many sessional lecturers who taught one or two courses per year had courses cut.”

Some retiring faculty will also not be replaced. Marks believes these cuts will have domino effects. 

“The reduction in staff members and sessional lecturers will increase workloads for remaining employees,” she said. She expects to see the number and variety of courses trimmed as well.

UVic has yet to release actual numbers of staff and faculty lost as a result of the budget shortfall. But labour relations representative Samantha Montgomery of the Professional Employees Association (PEA)—which represents about 1,200 academic and administrative staff at UVic—said she has attended five meetings so far with staff members who were involuntarily laid off, and knows of other members who have voluntarily retired or resigned. Many additional PEA vacancies remain unfilled.

UVic’s budget plan (page 25) identifies $10.5 million in budget reductions from position eliminations. Involuntary and voluntary departures represent about 1.4 million (14%) of that, with retirement $2.9 million (28%) and positions left vacant $4.1 million (39%).

Chart from UVic Planning & Budget Framework

University pursuing more and higher-paying enrolment 

With about 22,000 students enrolled today, UVic’s current operating budget is $488 million. More than 90% of that is student tuition, student fees and a yearly provincial government grant based on the number of Canadian students enrolled. 

This fall UVic will raise undergrad tuition by the maximum cap of 2% for domestic students (who currently pay about $6,000 in arts and sciences), and 6.75% for international students (who pay over $27,000). International students rates were already hiked by 20% in 2018 and 15% in 2019 despite widespread student opposition. This fall UVic will also raise student housing prices (part of a separate budget) by up to 10%.

UVic’s fall 2023 targets are 4,400 new domestic students and 475 new internationals (17% of newcomers). It is increasing international bursary and work study funding, and has hired Kaplan International to recruit more internationals in future years.

These students pay much more, though that doesn't mean they can all afford to; last fall, the vast majority of student food bank users were international.

New letter calls on BC to halt cuts and change model

On Wednesday the Faculty Association, PEA, and nine other unions—representing workers at UVic, VIU, Royal Roads and North Island College—released an open letter calling on the province to commit funding to reduce the cuts in the island’s post-secondary schools. The letter also asks specifically for the province to move away from what these and other BC education unions argue is a 20-year decline in public operating funding and a rise in budgets’ reliance on international student money.

Chart from Confederation of University Faculty
Associations of BC making case for decline in grants and rise in reliance on tuition

“Our members and communities should not be punished because of the inherent instability of our current post-secondary funding model,” it says, citing economic and health crises and backlogs of government visas as factors that can disrupt international enrolment. UVic international students have also been affected by their countries’ disputes with Canada and the difficulty of finding a place from afar in Victoria’s tight (and sometimes predatory) housing market.

In the short- and medium- term, the letter writers ask the province to support international students in several ways: 

• More certainty in housing, work, the immigration process, permanent residency pathways, and more

• Rolling admissions

• Lower tuition if deposits are made by certain cut-offs

• Eased eligibility requirements and “experiment[ing] with tuition levels” 

The letter signees also want BC to stabilize employment by providing bridge funding, emergency temporary transfers and loans to counter the fallout of lower enrolment. They ask the province to help schools retain sessional lecturers, and to encourage schools to convert sessionals to more secure faculty positions. The letter [Included in full as images at the bottom of this article*] says these sessionals are needed to maintain crucial programs, especially in health and tech. 

Montgomery said that there needs to be“swift action” to stabilize a worsening environment for employees already feeling years of burnout. 

“We are hearing from our members on campus and their morale is bleak. They’ve been through three hard years of dealing with the pandemic.” 

“It’s chilling,” said Montgomery, “to see post-secondary workers lose their jobs while the province has a budgetary surplus.”

Here’s what UVic’s trimmed budget prioritizes

Among the overall cuts, UVic’s new official plan does lay out areas it will keep putting money toward. There are “limited new investments” slated to boost student recruitment, scholarships, bursaries and work study placements. Designated priority areas will receive “modest” investments now, and then more when enrolment rises. 

Those areas, described on pages 5 and 6, include:

• Training for in-demand fields: health, tech and engineering

• Campus physical infrastructure, including housing 

• Student health and wellness

• Pathway programs and partnerships with other institutions

• UVic’s research and creative works strategy (Aspiration 2030) and its Climate and Sustainability Action Plan

• Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and accessibility

• A new reconciliation-oriented Indigenous plan

These are some of the key projects under those priorities.

Training for in-demand fields

Planning has already begun for potential expansions in the nurse practitioner, specialty nursing and health information sciences programs. Engineering and computer science programs may also see more seats added.

Campus infrastructure 

The campus is in the process of increasing its housing supply (and price) and is building a new Engineering and Computer Science building and National Centre for Indigenous Law. It is also developing a new mixed-use campus district, outside of its main ring, to replace the Ian Stewart Complex with housing and commercial space. 

As Capital Daily covered in January, the university wants to put those Stewart grounds under a different governance structure to bypass the provincial restriction on universities taking on debt. One precedent is UBC’s leveraging of its land value through selling developers 99-year leases.

Westshore expansion partnership

UVic is investing $1 million in a Langford campus that may yet provide a local answer to UVic’s enrolment struggles. 

Langford is one of Canada’s fastest-growing cities. It has more residents under age 15 than the rest of BC, the province cited in the campus announcement, but it has a below-average rate of high school students going straight to post-secondary: 38%, vs. the provincial average of 51%. According to the province, which is footing $77.8 million of the $98 million cost, residents say the long commute is a barrier to pursuing post-secondary education. 

Langford campus rendering. Photo: BoForm / HCMA

The campus—a joint initiative with Camosun College, Royal Roads and the Justice Institute of BC—is designed as a “pathway provider” for residents of the Westshore municipalities and First Nations communities. It will help students add skills required for careers that are in high demand using a rapid training model that offers micro-credentials, outlined on page 3 in UVic’s budget plan. 

This format is structured to prepare students for full-time degree programs with any of UVic, Camosun and Royal Roads. UVic also will offer first- and second-year programming in computer science and software engineering courses, with some core courses in humanities, fine arts and social sciences, which align with existing UVic programs.

The rapid training and pre-degree pathways in the Westshore are one response to the overarching problem that universities are facing tight budgets at the same time that the students they rely on for revenue do. 

Federal funding may help blunt rising costs to students

Canada’s 2023 budget, tabled March 28, made no allocation for universities and research grant funding. But it did allocate $813.6 million to enhance student financial aid for the academic year beginning Aug. 1, 2023. That includes a 40% increase to the Canada Student Grant program; full-time students can collect a maximum of $4,200. 

Students with disabilities and students with dependents will also be receiving an increase through student grants, but specific amounts are not yet confirmed.

With files from Michael John Lo

Update: This article has been updated, after a response from UVic, to better reflect the duration and extent of the hiring limits introduced last fall, and to make clearer the student housing fees' relationship to the budget.

*The letter text:

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