July projections show UBC could lose $77 million in international student fees this year

From travel restrictions to limited housing capacity and time zone difficulties, international students have been particularly impacted by COVID-19 changes this coming school year.

This will likely lead to a drop in international student enrolment for the fall term, and revenue shortfalls from that drop could have major financial implications for UBC.

Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs at UBC Media Relations, said it’s too early to identify any trends among international student enrolment for this fall.

“We’re not going to have a full sense of enrolment until mid/late September,” Ramsey said. “But applications from domestic and international students are in line with previous years.”

But UBC’s projection for its July 2020/21 budget is revealing. The university initially projected that it would make over $550 million off of international student fees. With the COVID-19 pandemic factored in, the university is projecting international student fee revenue of just over $473 million, a potential decrease of almost $77 million, a situation Ramsey called in a follow up email, a “worst case scenario.”

The budget is still a projection, however, and President and Vice-Chancellor Santa Ono noted in the July 2020 submission to the Board that “despite the best efforts of knowledgeable teams, the projections are subject to considerable variances that will become clearer in the coming weeks.”

Canadian post-secondary institutions in general have seen a general increase in the number of international students enrolled in recent years. In 2018 there was a 16 per cent increase in the number of international students in Canada, followed by a 14 per cent increase in 2019.

However, Robert Furtado, CEO of Course Compare, a career advice business tracking the fall pandemic plans of universities across the country, said that there’s an expectation among universities in Canada that the number of international students next year will drop.

“Universities are bracing,” Furtado said. “Universities rely on international student tuition for an increasing proportion of their revenue.”

While that may be true on a national scale, international student trends are particularly pertinent to UBC. Among Canadian universities, the percent of students who qualify as “international students” sits at 18 per cent. In BC, it is slightly higher at 22 per cent.

At UBC, the percentage of international students sits at a whopping 31 per cent.

The students behind the numbers

While also facing higher tuition costs than domestic students, international students face a host of other issues, including tightened regulations to get into the country and dealing with synchronous classes in different time zones.

International students have petitioned the university to lower tuition fees and have a tuition refund for the end of last term, but the university has refused.

Berti Argun, an international student going into his third year at UBC, said that international students are struggling with the fall transition as it’s becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile such high tuition fees.

“Almost all of my friends reduced their course load because of the high tuition fees,” Argun said.

Jaehee Lee, an international student from Korea, said that she was initially planning to take a gap year instead of paying $4,000 per class for an online course. However, she discovered that to qualify for a post-graduation work permit to stay in Canada, she must maintain full-time student status — even online.

“As taking a gap year didn’t qualify to be one of my options, I will be taking online courses and maintaining a full-time student status so that I will be eligible for [a post-graduate work permit] later on,” Lee said.

Like Lee, Anna Huynh, a fourth-year international student, fears of her future in Canada. Huynh is unable to return to Canada this fall and worries it will impact her ability to find a job.

“All the changes that took place since March have led to so many uncertainties about my post-grad life,” Huynh said. “I feel like I don’t have that many connections in Canada to really secure a job or internship.”

The uncertainty of the pandemic only exacerbates these concerns.

“It is significantly hard to afford [tuition], and the worst part is we do not know how long this will last,” Argun said.

This article has been updated to correct Robert Furtado’s name and position at Course Compare. The article was further updated to reflect that the budget is from July and is only a projection, including updating the headline to include ‘July projections.’