In face of another projected deficit, Vancouver Island University imposes hiring freeze

An internal letter acquired by The Discourse tells Vancouver Island University staff “immediate action” is required to reduce spending.
VIU Shq'apthut
Shq’apthut (A Gathering Place) at Vancouver Island University (VIU). Photo courtesy of VIU

Vancouver Island University (VIU) faculty and staff received an email Jan.13 that provided a grim update for proposed 2023-24 budgets and the financial situation of the university.

The letter acquired by The Discourse is addressed from VIU president Deborah Saucier, who writes: “VIU has been in deficit since March 2019. We have been drawing on our investments to meet our financial obligations, which is not a long-term solution.”

VIU’s 2022-2023 Consolidated Resource Plan projected improvement in enrolments with a return to a balanced budget in 2023-24.

“Continued lower enrolment combined with increased costs and insufficient new revenue have forced us into the unenviable position where we must limit our annual spending to remain financially viable,” Saucier states.

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The letter notes that VIU is one of various post-secondary institutions facing lower-than-expected enrolment numbers from domestic and international students. A strong job market may be a factor in lower enrolment, the Times Colonist reports.

Low enrolment coupled with rising inflation costs have forecasted a significant budget deficit and immediate action needs to be taken, Saucier states.

“Our first action is to implement immediate hiring restrictions. Effective immediately, all new job postings require approval from me,” the letter continues. “At this point in time, there are no plans for institution-wide layoffs. However, in some areas, budgetary actions may impact some positions.”

The new hiring restriction ties in with the requirement that all budgets be reassessed for potential cuts and resubmitted at the end of January. The letter states that budget calculations from originally submitted proposals would put the university into further deficit.

“New requests that are not funded by new revenue will need to be withdrawn or funded by reductions to other areas of department/faculty budgets.”

The Discourse reached out to CUPE 1858 and Vancouver Island University Faculty Association (VIUFA) for comment on the budgetary situation and what actions the two unions are taking to protect staff. At time of publication VIUFA was unavailable for comment.

CUPE 1858 stated: “We remain in conversation with VIU on what budget requirements are needed moving forward that support the staff of VIU.”

The rise of student fees, and international student fees in particular, has been a point of concern for VIU Student Union (VIUSU). Recent actions have pushed to end interest rates on federal and provincial loans. In a recent interview with The Discourse, VIUSU noted their focus now shifts on pushing for tuition rates to be reduced.

The Discourse reached out to VIUSU for comment regarding the letter, no statement was received by the time of publication.

VIU’s overall revenue increasingly relies on tuition and other fees, the letter to faculty and staff states, as government funding has not kept pace with the costs of delivering programs.

“The province recognizes that the current funding model for postsecondary institutions has created challenges and announced in 2021 that they are reviewing postsecondary funding. However, we do not anticipate that this review will change our financial situation for the 2023-24 fiscal year.”

Going forward, senior administration will continue to meet with the province to address the funding gap, Saucier writes, and the university will continue to invest in building its reputation and retaining students.

In response to The Discourse’s queries about the letter, VIU provided a statement: “Like other post-secondary institutions, VIU continues to experience lower-than-expected enrolments in both domestic and international student populations. Enrolments have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Record inflation has also negatively impacted our financial situation. As a result, VIU is looking to significantly limit spending in our 2023-24 Budget which will be finalized in April 2023.”

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