Bader International Study Center struggles with stagnant enrollment, financial problems

Trustees warn about risks to financial viability in annual reports dating back to 2012

The Bader International Study Centre in England.

For years, the Bader International Study Center (BISC) has been touted as the crown jewel of Queen’s international experience. Despite this feeling, annual reports reveal the BISC’s struggles with low enrolment and financial instability over the last half decade.

The nearly 600 year old Herstmonceux Castle was gifted to Queen’s by alumni Alfred and Isabel Bader in 1993. Since its inception, the international campus has faced persistent challenges to becoming profitable.

For years after it began operations as a satellite campus, the BISC’s annual expenditures were greater than its income. As a result, Queen’s, a publicly-funded university, was forced to cover their deficits. 

In the 90s, Queen’s spent roughly $8 million on the castle in the form of an interest-free loan—money the BISC still owns Queen’s today.

Since the castle is a charity registered in the United Kingdom, it produces annual reports to the U.K. Charity Commission. According to U.K. Charity Commission reports—which were obtained through Queen’s access and privacy office—the University’s continued financial support of the BISC “has resulted in considerable debt to Queen’s,” over the years. 

In recent years, BISC trustees have warned about the campus’ financial viability and potential risks for the future. “The key risk to the charity is a sudden or persistent decline in income causing the BISC to cease to be financially viable,” the report read. Trustees have echoed this sentiment in annual reports dating back to 2012.

In 2016—a year of unusually low enrolment with 101 students—the BISC report, trustees were “disappointed” the charity didn’t meet its targets.

Despite the summer 2016 term enjoying “virtually full enrollment,” the report said the fall and winter terms “continue to fall below optimum levels.”

“Student numbers were lower than budget, and the exchange rate of Sterling to the Canadian dollar was worse than that assumed in the budget,” the report read.

Back in 2013, Queen’s set enrollment targets for the BISC at 120 full-time undergraduate students. Since then, they’ve only failed to reach that target once. In 2014-15, the BISC hosted 117 full-time undergrads, and in 2015-16 that number dropped to 101. 

However, the University has steadily increased its planned enrollment predictions in the 2017-18 budget report. Queen’s planned for the enrollment of 115 students at the BISC in 2016-17, which went up to 120 in 2017-18 and a projected 125 in 2018-19.

Following several years of shaky leadership at the BISC, Queen’s appointed Dr. Hugh Horton as the new Vice-Provost and Executive Director in Apr. 2017. According to the University’s enrolment reports, Dr. Horton will oversee a “strategic planning process” meant to improve learning and research and increase enrollment. 

In addition, Queen’s and the BISC established an “enrolment taskforce” in 2016 to create a strategy for increased engagement with the castle. Since Horton’s appointment and the creation of the taskforce, Queen’s has ramped up efforts to sell the BISC to incoming undergraduate students. 

This year, Queen’s introduced a Concurrent Education program at the BISC in an effort to boost enrollment. To manage the shift, the University moved several spots in the program from the Kingston campus to the BISC.

In a statement emailed to The Journal, Queen’s Provost, Benoit-Antoine Bacon said that as a result of the taskforce’s implemented recommendations, “the BISC’s fall 2017 class was the largest ever and Fall 2018 might be larger still.” One hundred and thirty-nine students are expected to attend in 2017-18, which marks an increase from previous years.

Despite the increased enrollment from this fall, the 2017 annual report indicated “student enrollment during the Fall and Winter terms continued to be low,” despite “diversifying our course offerings.”

In the 2017 report, trustees indicated that to remain financially viable, enrollment of “sufficiently high numbers of students” is necessary. 

A barrier for some however, might be the BISC’s price tag. According to the University’s budget reports, in 2010, a semester at the BISC cost students $14,465. Contrasted to 2016, a semester cost $19,569 and by the end of 2019, prices are projected to increase further to $20,959. 

Bacon explained that, “the BISC works closely with Admissions on main campus to achieve enrolment targets, implementing many of the recommendations of the BISC Enrolment Taskforce.”

“Achieving enrolment targets is the key factor towards financial sustainability,” of the BISC. Bacon said the castle’s Enterprise Director, appointed in 2016, is continuing work to make the campus more profitable. 

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