With classes largely being held online, the student housing occupancy at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver campus is currently hovering at just 44%.
UBC Vancouver currently has about 12,000 student beds, and normally they cannot keep up with demand as there is an annual waitlist in excess of 6,000 students.
There are currently 585 first-year students living in student housing, which represents a 13% occupancy. Another 570 students in housing on campus are in their upper-year and graduate studies, which is a 23% occupancy.
The Vancouver campus also has 5,400 year-round student housing spaces, which are currently at a high occupancy rate of 88%. Many students call these residences their home for the duration of their studies.
Over at the UBC Okanagan campus in Kelowna, the student housing vacancy is far higher at 19% occupancy.
But the university says there is a positive upside with the overall high student housing vacancy, as it provides the housed students with a “safe, comfortable, and physically distanced learning experience.”
The temporary change to how classes are instructed has also softened Metro Vancouver’s rental housing market, and the transportation demand to post-secondary institution campuses.
Prior to COVID-19, 150,000 daily trips were made to and from the Vancouver campus. Over 1,000 buses passed through UBC Exchange each weekday, carrying 80,000 trips per weekday to the campus.
Despite the unprecedented changes, UBC says its student enrolment numbers remain strong this term.
The university is reporting the numbers of domestic and international undergraduate and graduate students are either slightly higher or on par with previous years, as of September 21.
In fact, the combined enrolment of UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan for full-time equivalents has risen by 2.4% this school year compared to last year, with 53,845 students now enrolled.
For UBC Vancouver, domestic undergraduate enrolment has increased by 3.7%, with 27,569 domestic undergraduate students.
International undergraduate enrolment at the Vancouver campus has only seen a slight decline of 1.8%, with 9,608 undergraduate students enrolled this year. However, international undergraduate enrolment is still up by 1% compared to 2018, and 8.5% from 2017.
Graduate student enrolment is slightly down by 2.3% for Vancouver and Okanagan campuses combined, but still up by 2.1% from 2018 and 3.2% from 2017.
The university attributes the continued strong enrolment partially to the trend seen during economic downturns of people going back to school to further their education.
Although overall enrolment is generally unchanged, the impact of COVID-19 and the resulting transition to online instruction that does not require a physical presence on campus is greatly affecting UBC’s finances.
The budget approved by UBC’s board of directors this summer shows the university is expecting to see a $225 million deficit on its $2.908 billion operating budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
This accounts for a $61.8 million drop in domestic student fees and $76.7 million drop in international student fees, representing a decrease of about 15% in the previously budgeted $943 million from tuition. There is another $161 million drop in revenue from demand-driven sales and services.
The university has mitigated some of its losses by making $61 million in operating expense cuts, including $36 million from salaries and benefits.
Some capital projects have also been delayed, including the decision to postpone the construction of the $156 million second phase of the Brock Commons student housing complex, which includes 325,000 sq. ft. of total floor across two towers, with 600 student beds, and additional classroom, multi-purpose, and administration spaces. Construction was originally slated to begin in Spring 2020 for a Fall 2022 completion.
But construction has continued on the new Pacific Residence being built next to the existing Gage Residence. This new $165 million development with 1,000 beds for upper-year students across five buildings began construction well before the pandemic, and is expected to reach completion in Fall 2021.
Prior to COVID-19, UBC had plans to increase its student housing capacity to 17,300 beds by 2030.