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Margin Notes

University enrolment: up, sideways or down?

Statistics Canada releases its latest university enrolment data.


Statistics Canada just released university enrolment numbers for the 2008/09 academic year. According to the agency, there were 1,112,300 students enrolled, up 3.7 percent from the previous year (this includes all students, full-time and part-time, undergraduate and graduate).

Interesting, to me at least, is the little note in the announcement that the increase was “due mainly to the attribution of university status to five colleges in British Columbia.” (In fact, three of those five institutions given full university status were previously university colleges, not colleges, but I digress.) Because of those changes, the B.C. enrolment numbers were way up – by a full one-third – over the previous year. If there had been no changes in the number of B.C. universities, StatsCan says, the growth in enrolment would have been a mere 0.7 percent nationally.

That last number should give pause: does it signal that we are about to enter a period of low-to-no growth in university enrolment, or even a decline, as predicted by University of Toronto demographer David Foot?

Probably not. Remember, these numbers are for the 2008/09 year, and University Affairs already reported last fall that full-time undergraduate enrolment was up a healthy 4.1 percent in the 2009/10 academic year just finished, based on preliminary estimates provided by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. Full-time graduate enrolment was up 7.2 percent. Those numbers don’t include part-time students, but I have no reason to believe that the addition of the part-time numbers would skew the results.

That isn’t to say David Foot will be proven wrong, but declining enrolment is not here yet.

P.S.: speaking of Statistics Canada, opposition continues to grow against the decision by the federal government to do away with the mandatory long-form in next year’s census. Here is just a sampling from the last few days:

  • “Coalition urges Tories to reverse census stand,” Montreal Gazette
  • “Good information comes at a price,” Globe and Mail
  • “Census changes ‘indefensible,’ retired top statistician says,” Ottawa Citizen
  • “65-thousand academics can’t be wrong,” Maclean’s On Campus

Update, July 30, 2010: Please note, I am now on holidays, so there’ll no new blog posts until my return on the week of Aug. 23. Happy summer holidays to one and all.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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  1. Stephen Pasiciel / July 27, 2010 at 01:09

    While we need to be statistically reminded of our universities’ enrolment status, we need to address the problem of enrolment through the lens of university culture and what culture looks like on each of our campuses. The numbers lead us to ask questions, but the questions we ask (What is academic freedom? How can we increase enrolment? How do we produce a different kind of PhD? What is the meaning of the “ivory tower”?) must reflect a sensitivity to a constantly changing culture in our communities, our students, our faculty and, ultimately, our campuses.

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