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College, university could lose big bucks if international student enrolment drops

Report from think tank examines losses if enrolment drops by 20 per cent, 50 per cent
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What impact would a large COVID-19 related drop in international student enrolment have on the Sault’s two post-secondary institutions?

Such a development in the 2020-2021 academic year would result in “significant losses” (in terms of tuition dollars which international students bring to college and university coffers).

That from a new briefing note entitled ‘Where are the international students? How COVID-19 could affect Northern Ontario’s economy,’ written by Hilary Hagar, a Northern Policy Institute research analyst.

The briefing note calculates the effect declining international student enrolment for 2020-2021 would have on 11 northern Ontario colleges and universities, including Sault College and Algoma University.

Specifically, the report calculates the loss of tuition fee income for each school if international student enrolment was down by 20 per cent and 50 per cent from original, projected income for 2020-2021. 

The report states such income for Sault College, with a forecasted full enrolment for 2020-21, is $6,418,822.

However, that income would fall to $5,135,058 with 20 per cent less enrolment from international students.

That income would fall to an even lower amount of $3,209,411 with 50 per cent less enrolment from international students.

The report states international student tuition fee income for Algoma University, with a forecasted full enrolment for 2020-21, is $3,121,794.

That income would fall to $2,497,435 with 20 per cent less enrolment from international students, $1,560,897 with 50 per cent less.

“The college projected 1,070 students for this fall in Sault Ste. Marie and we anticipate that the number will be impacted because of the pandemic but we cannot comfortably project a final target given the fluidity this issue still presents,” wrote Rick Webb, Sault College human resources and communications director, in an email to SooToday.

“We can say that the College has been actively recruiting around the world and continues to talk up the many benefits of studying at Sault College,” Webb added. 

“International students are very important to the college and the community. International students add a richness to our we are working very hard to continue to have that presence on campus.”

“I actually think the 20 and 50 per cent are arbitrary numbers to begin with, which they’ve put in that report,” said Brian Leahy, Algoma University communications director. 

“In general terms, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Algoma was expecting approximately 550 new and returning international students to study at our Sault Ste. Marie campus in the fall,” Leahy wrote in an earlier email.

“In general, current travel restrictions clearly have an impact on our international enrolment but the situation continues to evolve and we have put a number of measures in place to help off-set the direct impact of the loss of face-to-face programming over the short-term.”  

“Algoma has worked through various scenarios, not the same as those noted in the NPI study, to review and revise original forecasts as a result of the pandemic.”  

Though any decline in international student enrolment would be expected to hurt, Leahy wrote “thanks to the tremendous progress we have made over the past two years, Algoma is in good financial health. This provides us with the ability to adjust our budgets to align with any short or long term changes in student enrolment.”

“We are also keeping our sights on the longer-term vision for the University,” Leahy wrote.

That vision includes the goal of having 3,000 full-time students, both international and domestic, at Algoma University by 2023-2024.

The Northern Policy Institute’s report states Lakehead University would be the hardest hit post-secondary institution if international student enrolment dramatically declines in northern Ontario.

The Northern Policy Institute is a Thunder Bay-based independent think tank, which states its role is to “perform research, collect and disseminate evidence, and identify policy opportunities to support the growth of sustainable Northern Ontario communities.”