Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Changing the Course of Student Residences
Year Submitted 2017
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name / Nom Title / Titre
Carol Desilets Director Ancillary Services
Ian Johnsrude Manager, Student Residences
Name of Institution Vancouver Island University
Office Address 900 5th Street
Nanaimo, British Columbia V9R 5S5
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Telephone: 250-740-6303
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.
Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Shelley Legin
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) CFO and Vice President Administration
Office Address 900 5th Street
Nanaimo, British Columbia V9R 5S5
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Telephone: 250-740-6231
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.

Historically Vancouver Island University was a community college which served a local catchment area on Vancouver Island.  In 2008 an amendment to the University Act of BC designated VIU as a university.  This change began to have two effects on the campus.  Firstly, it drastically enlarged the catchment area of the institution and created demand to services for students who were not from the local area.  Also, it changed the student expectations from the service delivery models traditional in community colleges to one in which students expect to be able to co-create their experience with the University.   Within this context, a project was initiated in 2013 to improve housing services at Vancouver Island University.

The project began with a demand study involving an assessment of market opportunities and key stakeholders.  The study demonstrated that the existing 386 beds, and practices around returning students were inadequate to meet the recruitment and retention expectations of the major university departments.  It also explained that the current housing operation fell into a gap in the market.  There was demand at a much higher price for units offering private kitchens and baths and demand at the lower end of the market for units providing shared spaces.  The existing housing operation did not meet either need.

While there was a need to offer accommodations that were more in line with a university housing system, there was no appetite to build new units considering the systemic issues with the current operation. The units had been maintained as a wholly owned subsidiary of the University and had lost a substantial amount of money due to an inefficient design that included units with a large footprint and a low rent ceiling for rentals in the local community.  Without a financially stable business model and the ability to offer traditional residence programming, construction of new housing stock seemed unfeasible.

After this work with the principal stakeholders a project was initiated to revise the current housing model in the following key areas:

  • Give VIU the ability to offer a first-year residence guarantee in line with other institutions across Canada
  • Accommodate the increase in housing demand due to the larger catchment area
  • Move the operating model into the high demand affordable section of the market by doubling rooms
  • Fund the project entirely through the 2015/2016 operating budget
  • Increase the number of first-year students and support them through a full residence life program to better allow them to transition into the community.
  • Demonstrate financial sustainability and continued operational excellence.


Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.

Given the current economic climate in publicly funded institutions, more organizations are being forced to evaluate service delivery models.  Also, as more organizations broaden their mandate, there is a need to find innovative and creative ideas to offer traditional student services such as housing.  This project required assessment and improvements of business operations including human resources, organizational structure, the student experience website, programs, processes and procedures, space allocation and facilities.  In an environment where every dollar counts it is imperative that institutions challenge mature business operations to demonstrate how they support the objectives and mandate of the university.


Quality Impact

The largest impact of the changes was to the student experience.  Students can access greater support services, and first-year students are guaranteed accommodation on campus.  These supports have been a driver behind the increase in both recruitment and student retention at VIU.  The new operating structure brought much-needed clarity to staff rolls, and they also became eligible for the university benefit and pension plan.  These changes have not only increased morale but created a cohesive team which can now perform at a high level.  The University has also built meaningful relationships with the community by preparing students to live off campus and still be successful financially, personally and academically. The residence brand is now one of the most visible and successful brands on campus. 

Productivity Impact

Since implementing the business plan for this project, student residences have seen a significant shift from a deficit of $150,000 to a profit of $158,000 in 2015/16.  The anticipated return for the 16/17 fiscal year is $317,000.  The new business model also fully funded an increase in staffing cost of $175,000/year, the capital cost of the project of $60,000/year and an increase in residence life costs of $100,000. The overall financial swing is over $800,000 as a result of this project.  The well-planned, data-driven business case has proved to be true and has broad support across VIU.


It is tough for young or changing post-secondary institutions to offer the same level of service as the older more established universities.  There simply are not the resources to invest into loss leading programs like Residence Life required to support a university housing operation.  At many institutions, this can cause labor relations challenges as financing is just not available to fund increase positions or changes in pay.  Also, traditional ancillary services are under much greater pressure to demonstrate how they are in alignment with the mandate of the University and to be financially sustainable.  By addressing the business operation using a systems thinking approach, this project was able to identify key stakeholders and their needs, increase staff morale, improve the student experience and improve the financial viability of the institution.  Perhaps most importantly this project created a foundation on which continued growth in housing can be built.