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UVic halts new hires to avoid deficit

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The University of Victoria's campus is again buzzing with students, but a shortfall of them during the pandemic and an ongoing lack of international students means tuition revenue is down.

Hope Armstrong is a fourth-year student in the marine biology program. She says classroom instructors are already stretched thin.

"In the labs, there's always shortages of TAs and profs are always overloading their classes trying to compensate," said Armstrong on Monday.

The school blames the decline in international students on a hangover from COVID-19, as well as inflation, a housing shortage and delays processing international visas.

The university is dealing with a forecasted deficit of $17 million and has asked for campus-wide budget cuts of six per cent. It is also imposing sweeping limitations on new hires, both for academic and non-academic positions.

"We’ve taken immediate steps to control expenses, including a pause and review on all new hiring," the university said in a statement. "This includes hiring only in critical or high-priority positions in the short term and looking for areas to reduce some expenses beyond that."

Multiple students who CTV News spoke with expressed concern that the school was implementing a temporary halt on hiring new staff.

It’s not just students being impacted. Employees say putting the brakes on most new hires, along with potentially a halt on buying new equipment, will hurt.

Kirk Mercer is the president of the local CUPE union, which has approximately 900 full- and part-time employees at UVic.

He says the union’s members had been optimistic that workloads and stress were improving as we moved out of the pandemic, but this latest news is discouraging. "Pushing back to doing more with less, which unfortunately we’ve been doing for far too long," said Mercer.

Decreased enrollment coming out of the pandemic is also being blamed in Nanaimo, where Vancouver Island University says it's forecasting a deficit of $5.3 million this year.

Post-secondary schools aren't allowed to run deficits without the province’s approval. The province says VIU hasn't applied yet for approval to run a deficit. Staff at VIU tell CTV News that the school is working closely with the school on its financial plans to return to a balanced budget.

Meanwhile North Island College says it started the school year with a deficit of approximately $800,000 — a shortfall it too attributes to recovery from the pandemic.

Royal Roads University says it does not forecast a deficit this year.

As for UVic and its shortfall, the school has advised CUPE leadership it expects its cost-cutting measures to be finished by the spring.

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