Empty Campus: Big changes at Waterloo’s two universities
An interesting read looking at the impact that the Coronavirus is going to have on Waterloo Region. The focus is mostly on the university scene itself here (Waterloo proper has two of them plus there’s also Conestoga College in Kitchener), but it also touches on the wider effect that a lack of students is going to have on the entire area.
What are landlords going to do with all of their suddenly empty student housing space? It was already going to be a rough road for businesses hoping to recover from the extended closures, and now there won’t be that annual thousands strong influx of people all contributing to the economy in some way. The region’s revenue isn’t safe either. Less people using transit means less people paying for transit, and students take a lot of transit. Their loss isn’t going to be some small drop in the bucket.
But this goes far beyond just students, really. A lot of people are still working at home if they’re working at all. Those people don’t need the same products and services in the same volumes they once did, and nobody knows when they’ll need them again. And what if this work at home thing sticks around after it’s safe to go back? Companies are already looking at expanding it, because it’s working out better than a lot of people anticipated. That could wind up being another significant blow to business, not to mention a lot of empty office space that’s going to need a pretty enormous rethink.
People will sometimes ask us “when do you think things will get back to normal?” I always have two answers. One of them, obviously, is “who knows?” But often I’ll follow that up with something like “and will we even know normal when we see it?” There are so many things, some right under our nose and some that even the smartest among us haven’t yet considered, that could have a huge impact on what our future looks like for years to come.
Even if students continue to enrol this fall, there will be very few of them on campus.
• Another financial blow for the many businesses in Waterloo — from bars to bookstores — that depend on students for their customer base.
• The many landlords in the area who rent to students are feeling anxious as they anticipate empty apartments and financial difficulties ahead.
• Students will be robbed of the special experiences of campus life, from participating in sports and clubs, to having animated conversations in the dining hall.
• Professors, some of whom know very little about technology, are being trained to offer their courses online this fall. University of Waterloo alone will hire 300 co-op students to help with this.
• Financial uncertainty looms for the universities themselves. Enrolment numbers and tuition revenue is expected to decline significantly, yet there are additional costs to putting classes online.
• Municipal services, especially Grand River Transit, will be affected by lower numbers of student passengers.