Pandemic’s impact on international enrolment threatens revenue stream at Canadian universities

Statistics Canada projects potential financial losses at post-secondary institutions across the country in 2020-21

Queen’s identified the risk of reduced international enrolment in May.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Statistics Canada (StatsCan) released a report on Oct. 8 to show how Canadian post-secondary institutions haven’t escaped the economic impacts of COVID-19.

Many of the impacts on revenue stem from uncertainty about international student enrolment. In 2020-21, the average annual international undergraduate student tuition at Canadian universities is $32,041, almost five times the average for domestic students who pay $6,610 for the year.

In 2019, The Journal reported that international students paid an average of $40,168. 17 for one year of an Arts and Science undergraduate degree at Queen’s, depending on the time of enrolment. 

According to the StatsCan report, it’s estimated that international students paid almost 40 per cent of all tuition fees and accounted for almost $4 billion in annual revenue for Canadian universities in 2017-18.

READ MORE: Queen’s plans to maintain tuition fees for remote learning, anticipating loss of international tuition

The report states that the threat to tuition poses a serious risk to post-secondary institutions because of how reliant on student fees they’ve become in the last decade.

Acknowledging the uncertainty around both international and domestic enrolment, Statistics Canada created projected scenarios indicating the range of potential losses facing these institutions.

Post-secondary institutions could face losses from $377 million to $3.4 billion during the 2020-21 academic year.

The projections for international student enrolment are based on international student permit holder data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) because, according to Statistics Canada, these numbers typically correlate with international student enrolment.

IRCC recorded that the number of student permits issued from June to August 2020 fell by 58 per cent compared with 2019.

Thirteen per cent of the permits granted prior to August 2020 were no longer valid at the beginning of September and another 32 per cent won’t be valid by January 2021.

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The first scenario projects a revenue loss of $3.4 billion under the assumption that there are 58 per cent fewer international students during the 2020-21 year and a stable number of domestic students.

A second scenario shows a financial loss of $1.6 billion, or 3.6 per cent of overall university revenues for 2020-21, if the number of international students decreased by 32 per cent. In the third projection scenario, Canadian universities would experience a loss of $377 million if the number of international students declined by 13 per cent.

While these three projections assume domestic enrolment remains stable for 2020-21, another two models look at decreases of domestic students enrolling in courses.

The fourth projection applies a possible 20 per cent decrease in domestic student enrolment in combination with a 32 per cent decrease in international students to predict a $3.1 billion loss of revenue.

READ MORE: International students stranded in Kingston

The final scenario assumed domestic student enrolment would increase by seven per cent—based on how enrolment increased after the 2008 recession—and international enrolment would decrease by 32 per cent amounting to a $1.1 billion loss of revenue.

Queen’s identified the possibility of enrolment reductions as the greatest risk associated with the remote term in May because of how it directly contributes to lower revenue.

While the University wasn’t able to predict exactly how international student enrolment would be impacted by the pandemic, it planned for a variety of scenarios wherein enrolment targets aren’t met this year.

The scenarios showed potential revenue losses of $42 million to $87 million based on changes to the international student population.

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