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Statistics Canada projects financial losses for Canadian universities, decrease in international enrolment

U of T expects similar enrolment, revenue numbers to the previous year
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Canadian universities could face steep financial losses due to COVID-19.STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY
Canadian universities could face steep financial losses due to COVID-19.STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Statistics Canada has updated its data about revenues and expenditures of Canadian universities to include projections based on revenue streams from past years, including a breakdown of funding sources and a projection of how universities might be impacted by the pandemic.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Statistics Canada has created five different scenarios to project revenue losses, which range from $377 million to $3.4 billion.

Statistics Canada projects financial losses and decreases in international enrolment for Canadian universities in general. However, U of T expects to see similar numbers to last year, although according to a U of T spokesperson, the final data will not be available until November.

Government funding and tuition

Canadian universities get nearly half of their funding from government sources, at 45.8 per cent. The second highest source of university funding comes from tuition fees, which account for 29.4 per cent of total funding. However, at U of T, 48 per cent of the university’s revenue comes from tuition fees.

While provincial government funding has increased over the past few years, that funding as a proportion of total university funding has decreased from 38.6 per cent in 2013–2014 to 35.4 per cent in 2018–2019.

Meanwhile, tuition fees have increased as a proportion of total revenue. Of the $9 billion in tuition fees that Canadian universities received in the 2018–2019 academic year, more than one third of that amount came from international student tuition. International students pay much higher fees than domestic students and their enrolment rates have been steadily increasing. At U of T, international student fees accounted for 30 per cent of the university’s revenue in the 2018–2019 academic year.

In the 2008–2009 academic year, international students accounted for 7.9 per cent of all students, which has risen to 14.7 per cent of all students in 2018–2019. In 2020–2021, international students paid an average of $32,041 to attend university in Canada compared to domestic students, who pay $6,610.

Statistics Canada projection scenarios

Based on possible decreases in international and domestic enrolment, the loss to university revenue could range from $377 million to $3.4 billion, according to five different enrolment scenarios.

Scenarios A, B, and C account for a 58 per cent, 32 per cent, and 13 per cent decrease in international student enrolment, respectively. The drop in international enrolment of 58 per cent is based on international student permit holder data from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, which has historically had a correlation with enrolment rates.

Scenarios D and E factor in a possible drop or rise in domestic enrolment. A Labour Force Survey over the summer found that an average of 20 per cent of 17–24 year-olds who had been attending school in March and had the potential to return to school in the new year would not be doing so. Scenario D assumes that the full 20 per cent will not return to school and that there will be a 32 per cent decrease in international student enrolment. The last scenario assumes an increase in domestic students and a decrease in international students of seven per cent and 32 per cent, respectively.

U of T was not listed among the example universities that announced cuts to expenditure in response to the pandemic. In an email to The Varsity, Dwayne Benjamin, U of T’s provostial advisor on recruitment, enrolment, and educational space & technology, wrote that “early indications are that our overall enrolment levels for the fall term are roughly in line with last year.”

He added that university administrators “do not expect to see significant reductions in overall operating revenue.” However, they “have seen significant cost increases in many areas, including repatriation of students who were overseas during the initial lockdown. He also noted that the university has “provided more than $6.5 million in emergency bursaries to approximately 6,000 students dealing with loss of employment opportunities and unexpected expenses.”