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Enrolment up again across Canada

Recession likely keeping students in school and out of the labour market

by Léo Charbonneau

graph
Annual change in full-time enrolment at Canada’s universities (undergraduate and graduate)
*The year of Ontario’s “double cohort”
Source: AUCC

Canada has recorded the largest annual increase in university enrolment since the double cohort – the larger-than-average class of first-year students that resulted from Ontario’s elimination of Grade 13 – washed over the postsecondary education sector in 2003.

According to preliminary enrolment figures compiled by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, full-time undergraduate enrolment rose 4.1 percent this academic year compared to last year. Full-time graduate enrolment is up 7.2 percent.

Combining the two, overall enrolment is up 4.6 percent. This translates to approximately 870,000 full-time students enrolled in Canada’s universities – 733,500 in undergraduate programs and 136,500 in graduate programs.

“This is the scale of increases that one would have expected in the midst of these economic times,” said Herb O’Heron, senior adviser, national affairs, at AUCC. With the economic downturn, students may be avoiding entering the labour market and instead are “investing in themselves” so that they possess the skills needed when the economy recovers. “And there’s every indication that the economy will demand those skills in the future,” he said.

“Students and their parents know higher education leads to better job prospects,” added AUCC President Paul Davidson. “In the last 12 months there have been more than 60,000 new jobs for university graduates, while there were 390,000 fewer jobs for those without higher education.”

International recruitment efforts also account for the increased enrolment, with Canadian universities attracting an additional 7,000 full-time international students to their campuses this fall.

In Quebec, where enrolment is up 3.8 percent this year, the Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities interpreted the increase this way: “The current economic recession has led to significant numbers of lost jobs, new programs have been implemented, and international student recruitment has been stepped up.”

David Graham, provost and vice-president, academic, at Concordia University, said he was expecting increased enrolment at his institution, but the numbers surpassed the enrolment target. The university was planning for the equivalent of 500 new full-time students, or FTEs, but got more than double that.

That’s good news, he said, because Quebec universities are funded on what’s called a weighted FTE basis. On the other hand, “we are very, very squeezed for classroom space.” But he was quick to add, “Having more students can bring problems, but not nearly as many problems as having fewer students.”

In Atlantic Canada, where undergraduate enrolment is up 1.5 percent – bringing an end to a four year decline – Colin Dodds credited the gain partly to the region’s universities “working harder than ever in marketing themselves regionally, nationally and internationally.” Dr. Dodds is president of St. Mary’s University and chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities.

While every region has seen some growth, the situation may vary greatly from one institution to another, even within a single province. For example, while the University of New Brunswick had a two-percent drop in enrolment, Mount Allison University had a gain of 9.5 percent.

Increased enrolment is not always welcome news. The University of British Columbia saw increased undergraduate enrolment, but “we were seeking to hold enrolment constant,” said Walter Sudmant, the university’s director of planning and institutional research.

The result is that “we will have to do some scrambling,” he said. Some departments will need to add additional core-course sections. These probably can be accommodated by having sessional instructors teach additional courses. But it will also mean “more crowded classes” and to some extent “more people being unable to get into the courses they want.”

As well, said Mr. Sudmant, while the university gets the additional tuition revenue from extra students, universities in B.C. won’t get additional government revenue. “There’s no more money coming from government. So any kind of increased expenses have to be absorbed completely out of that additional tuition.

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