(February 8, 2021) On February 1, Laurentian University (LU) became the first Canadian university to declare insolvency and apply for creditor protection—essentially applying for bankruptcy. Their factum cited ‘operational deficits in the millions of dollars’.
Is Laurentian University the canary in the coal mine for regional Canadian universities?
No other schools have announced such drastic measures thus far. And larger universities, like Queen’s University and the University of Toronto, are still raking in billions from ultra-wealthy donors. But Ian Lee, professor of economics at Carleton University, worries that many smaller schools share the same financial challenges and vulnerabilities as Laurentian University.
“They're facing a triple crisis. They’re in remote areas of the country, like northern Ontario, for example. Secondly, they’re dependent on foreign students, and COVID really put a wrench into that. And, thirdly, they don't have the quality of brand like Queen’s or U of T's.”
Robert Haché, president of LU, told the Sudbury Star the university has been under financial stress for some time, due to “a combination of factors, such as historical recurring deficits; declining demographics in Northern Ontario; the closure of our Barrie campus in 2019; [and] the domestic tuition reduction and freeze that was implemented in 2019.” The COVID-19 pandemic only turned up the heat on LU’s financial problems.
Still, the announcement was a shock to many at the university.
“We’ve been completely blindsided...There was no warning,” according to Professor Jean-Charles Cachon, secretary-treasurer of Laurentian University Faculty Association.
Laurentian has reassured its students they will not be directly affected by the university’s financial turmoil. But experts say the university’s financial crisis is likely to affect everyone in the institution—“structure, students, and faculty”—at a time when things are already dire. All across Canada, student satisfaction and mental health have suffered as a result of the shift to online studies necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coming at an already difficult time, the Laurentian University’s announcement has been troubling for students. Concurrent education student Kelsie Bartolucci told The Lambda, LU’s student newspaper that, although she hadn’t yet made a decision, the announcement had given her pause.
“If they can’t become financially stable, I don’t have faith in getting a fair education,” she said. “If the university can’t afford to support their professors, how can I feel secure about being supported as a student?”