From November 15, 2022, to January 9, 2023, I took a leave of absence from Cape Breton University. I was dealing with a serious family health issue. My wife’s passing on December 10, 2022, has not been easy. I want to take this opportunity to thank our many partners, including governments, non-profit organizations, the private sector and all of our internal community members – faculty, staff and students, as well as the media – for demonstrating their kindness in respecting my privacy. I’m very grateful for the compassion you have shown me.
As I return to my duties, I am particularly concerned about the housing situation in Cape Breton. It affects the University, our students and our community. I want to assure you that I, as President and Vice-Chancellor, take full responsibility for the increasing pressures on the housing system due to our student enrolment.
For quite some time, we, at CBU, have been working to address the housing issue and other growth challenges. We’ve had some success but, obviously, not enough. The bottom line is that CBU needs to do more. We will double down and work even harder with governments, developers, non-profit organizations, students and others to address the housing needs of our students and, of course, assist the broader community.
I’d like to share with you what CBU has been doing and provide context to the issues we have to address in the weeks and months ahead.
CBU has seen its enrolment go from 3,300 students in 2018 to nearly 7,000 students in 2023. It has been a great success.
The question now is, why such growth?
The primary reason we are seeing significant enrolment growth at this time is due to visa processing delays related to COVID-19. This has meant that many students who were accepted to CBU from 2021 to 2022 had to defer their studies because they either could not travel to Canada or were still waiting for visa approval. Now, we are welcoming a double cohort of students to our campus.
In September of 2022, we closed Spring 2023 applications to post-baccalaureate business programs to countries that generate a high volume of applications. We have also closed Fall 2023 applications to those same countries. These decisions will result in a 56% (3,771) decline in total applications to these programs. Additionally, as part of our strategic enrolment management planning, we introduced enrolment caps and adjusted admissions timelines to allow for a controlled decline in enrolment in the post-baccalaureate business programs. We are confident the changes made in the last six months will have a positive impact on our enrolment; however, high enrolment levels will continue into 2023 as current students progress through the length of their programs.
On the issue of housing, we have always stressed to students the importance of securing accommodations before arriving in Canada and strongly suggest on-campus housing to new students.
Here’s what we’re doing:
I have appointed an internal Housing Task Force to address a number of important issues, receive suggestions from the community and to work with all of our stakeholders, including the Students’ Union, alumni and the three levels of government. They will also engage with leading experts on affordable housing. This task force has already met and will report directly to me on a weekly basis.
The Tartan Downs Housing initiative is a major project that we began three years ago in anticipation of growth on our campus. To date, we have received great cooperation from the Government of Nova Scotia through the offices of The Honourable Brian Comer, Minister Responsible for the Office of Addictions and Mental Health; The Honourable John Lohr, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing; The Honourable Brian Wong, Minister of Advanced Education; and John White, MLA for Glace Bay-Dominion.
We continue to push for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to come to the table and support this project. The Government of Nova Scotia and CMHC have now retained a consultant who is working to see how to best move this important community infrastructure project forward. We will pursue this with even greater urgency in the coming weeks. It is imperative that CMHC, that is working with $22 billion, provide meaningful assistance to this urgent project.
We continue to meet with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s mayor and team and remain hopeful they will also see the urgency of this project for their residents. We met with them on August 31, 2022, to stress the urgency of this project and will meet with them again on January 18, 2023, to further discuss challenges associated with managing growth in Cape Breton, something we have not faced for many decades. We have always seen the Tartan Downs project as a critical project that will assist with the housing needs of the CBRM. This project needs acceleration now to benefit the community for generations to come.
We are working with a developer in Glace Bay on a variety of different projects and with a property owner in Sydney regarding a number of potential housing units. We hope to be in a position to share more details with the community in the near future.
We are also looking at MacDonald Residence to see if it can be converted into a different type of student housing that better suits the preferences of our students.
Additionally, on the connected challenges of transportation, part-time employment and student health access:
While many of our students choose to work during their studies, CBU does not guarantee employment to students, and we make it clear that the local part-time job market is competitive. We do offer opportunities for on-campus employment through a work-study program and facilitate various types of co-op and internship opportunities. Students are also hired in athletics and recreation, as Peer Success Mentors, as student researchers and in a number of other departments across campus. In 2022, CBU was able to provide part-time employment to more than 730 students.
The on-campus Health and Counselling Centre provides training sessions for faculty and staff on
how to support our students, and students also have access to 24/7 mental health resources online. We also have a dedicated mental health nurse and a team of counselors working on-site. We encourage students to use these supports.
For more than two years now, we have been strongly advocating for immediate access for international students to Nova Scotia Medical Insurance (MSI). Currently, they must wait 13 months for healthcare coverage outside of their student insurance plan. We, along with Universities Canada and the Council of Nova Scotia University Presidents, will continue to strongly advocate for this. Healthcare is crucial for a thriving community.
I am optimistic that CBU, along with our community partners, can find quick and innovative solutions to ensure the exceptional CBU experience is upheld. I look forward to hearing from you, working with you and addressing these challenges head on.
If you have feedback or solutions, please email email@example.com.
Yours very truly,
David C. Dingwall
President and Vice-Chancellor
1.) CBU provides all new students with information so they know what to expect when they arrive in Cape Breton. We share this information directly and through various communication channels. For example, students who were accepted to CBU for January of 2023 were sent a series of emails from the Director of Housing, Food and Ancillary Services and the Director of Student Affairs to inform them of the housing situation, clearly stating they should defer their acceptance if they were not able to secure housing by December 15, 2022.
2.) These emails were sent on November 1, November 17 and November 30. Despite this, students have still arrived in Cape Breton without long-term accommodations, choosing to stay with friends or in hotel rooms temporarily while they continue their housing search. This practice is not advised by CBU.
3.) In order to set students up for success, they are informed that they need to secure housing because it 3 plays a vital role in the student experience. It is important that students do not travel to Canada before securing proper accommodations as this is a safety risk. This also applies to students traveling to Cape Breton from other parts of Canada. Students are advised that affordable housing is limited within the CBRM, so starting their search early is very important. Students who are unable to secure housing are strongly advised to defer their studies. Notwithstanding these clear directions, there are still students who arrive without having secured accommodations. This must change.
4.) Every official acceptance letter states that housing and employment opportunities are limited in the local area. This step in our process happens before students apply for their visa and is intended to help them in their decision making.
5.) CBU currently has 50 vacant beds available on-campus right now. Students are not taking advantage of these opportunities, and while we respect their right to choose where they live, we have stressed the advantages of living on campus. These are safe and affordable accommodations with utilities included for $560 a month and an all you can eat meal plan for $26 per day. We will continue to communicate this. We will review the plan to see if there is a way to address the cost of food.
6.) It is important to know that the Government of Canada stipulates that each new student who comes to Canada needs to have a sum of $10,000 to support themselves. This is part of the Government of Canada study permit applications. To date, it appears the amount of money that students are budgeting for housing is considerably less than what is needed. We have suggested at least $800 to $1,000 a month for housing needs. There was a time that students may have been able to find accommodation on a shared basis for a minimum of $300 a month, but this is no longer the case as rental markets have become more competitive across the country.
We will continue our communications to students regarding the housing situation in Cape Breton before they apply, and after they’re accepted, to ensure they are fully prepared to be successful in their studies.
Cape Breton University Accommodations Task Force
Chair, Doug Connors, Director of Housing, Food and Ancillary Services
Gordon MacInnis, Vice-President of Finance and Operations
John Mayich, Director of Student Affairs
Lenore Parsley, Director of Strategic Communications
Kent MacIntyre, Manager of Community Engagement Program and Special Projects
Additional committee members are being determined.