Enrolment growth key to VIU budget

NANAIMO – Growing the student population is how Vancouver Island University will meet revenue targets in the 2013-14 budget.

Growing the student population is one of the main strategies Vancouver Island University aims to use to meet revenue targets in the 2013-14 budget.

The university’s board of governors recently approved the $131-million budget, which includes plans to recruit and retain 500 more full-time domestic students next year in programs partially funded by the province; and growing enrolment in cost-recovery programs – those that are entirely paid for through tuition – such as continuing education and international education.

“It’s a tough economic environment, the government is cutting us,” said Pat Eagar, vice-president of administration and finance. “The largest challenge was we were definitely committed to supporting investment in our people. We’re doing it by growing and getting more entrepreneurial.”

The budget also includes recently negotiated, modest increases to salaries and benefits with its three unions, which translates into an additional $3.4 million in expenditures across all three bargaining units; a two-per cent tuition increase for domestic students and increases of between four and 5.7 per cent for international students; parking fee increases; minor investments in information technology; and a new staffing position dedicated to implementing the recently developed enrolment management plan.

Enrolment has declined by 6.4 per cent in the past three fiscal years, a happenstance Eagar attributes in part to the faculty association strike that shut down the university for a month in 2011, and the university aims to reverse that trend to achieve the targeted growth levels.

“We’re looking to return to our enrolment levels of 2010,” said Eagar. “It’s not a new level.”

For international students, the target is an increase of about 160 students, achieved partly by adding another Master in Business Administration class.

She said if these targets are not achieved, university officials believe the budget can still be balanced by using salary vacancy savings – historically, the institution has a four per cent staff vacancy rate, as it sometimes takes time to replace staff.

Another factor that could take the pressure off a little is provincial funding levels, Eagar added.

The 20212 provincial budget announced a reduction in post-secondary funding of $50 million over two years, which equals a loss of more than half a million for VIU next year, but  the 2013 budget – yet to be approved – intends to stretch the cut over the next three years instead of two, meaning a reduction of $150,000 instead of $550,000 in government funding.

The university’s budget includes the 2012 numbers to be on the safe side.

Eagar said it is a moderate risk budget – while some items are riskier, such as budgeting in growth in the student population, officials have been more conservative with such items as estimating the number of minor grants the institution could receive.

With more than 70 per cent of the budget spent on people costs, the majority of the $6.8-million growth in expenditures is also in people, she added.

“You can’t get growth without spending money on people,” said Eagar.

Steve Beasley, VIU Student’s Union executive director, said the tuition increase means students and families will be paying more for less yet again.

He said as the university has expanded, investment in areas such as student services, registration, finance and counselling has not kept pace.

“Enrolment is declining because people can’t afford to go and they can’t get the services they need,” said Beasley, adding he believes the growth target is overly ambitious given the current economy.

Marni Stanley, faculty association president, said her group is pleased the university has maintained services to students and not cut programs, but it is not sustainable, as provincial investment remains stagnant, forcing the university to absorb inflationary increases.

“If the current policies continue, it will soon be the case that a B.C. post-secondary education is only for the rich and those willing to take on punitive debt,” she said.