September 20, 2018

Trends in Canadian higher education

AUCC (2011) Trends in Higher Education: Vol. 1, Enrolment Ottawa: AUCC

This publication of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada is packed full with data and information about Canadian higher education. For example:

In 2010, there were almost 1.2 million students in degree programs on Canadian campuses: 755,000 undergraduates, 143,400 graduate students studying full-time, and an additional 275,800 students studying part-time. Fifty-six percent of university students were women, and 10 percent were international students. In 1980, there were 550,000 full-time and 218,000 part-time university students on Canadian campuses…there were about three percent fewer youth in the key 18-to-24 age range in 2010 than in 1980. The demand for a highly skilled and educated labour force has been a principal driver in the growth of university participation rates.

Since the 1970s, a profound change has been taking place in the labour market. Canada has shifted from a resource-based economy to a service-based one, resulting in a different mix of jobs available for Canadians. The fastest growing occupations are now in Canada’s service sector, which grew from 6 million jobs in 1975 to more  than 13 million jobs in 2010. In the last 20 years alone, there were 1.67 million new jobs for professional and management occupations in Canada, of which 1.33 million were filled by university graduates. This shift to a service sector economy has created high-paying, quality jobs. By comparison, jobs have grown at a much slower pace in many other occupations, and jobs for people who have  a high school diploma or less are disappearing.

While there was a general expectation that the trend towards lifelong learning would drive higher enrolment demand from the over 35 age cohort, current trends do not support this hypothesis. Although the number of students in this age group has tripled in the last 30 years from 6,000 in 1980 to more than 18,000 in 2010, their share of all full-time undergraduate students has remained at two percent. Though universities are acutely aware of the presence and needs of their older students, enrolment growth is driven by much more rapid increases in traditional youth cohorts on many university campuses. In 2010, six out of seven, or 86 percent of students studying full-time at the undergraduate level were under the age of 25.

Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey also highlights that since the early 1990s, more students have been combining work and study than was the case in the 1980s. Working longer hours may lead some students to opt for part-time rather than full-time study (at least for part of their program).

AUCC estimates that there are between 20,000 and 25,000 Aboriginal students in Canadian universities, and that the number of Aboriginal students has been growing at the same rate  as overall student numbers over much of the last decade. In 2002, Aboriginal students represented approximately three percent of all undergraduate students, a share they have maintained since 2002.

In 1980, the income advantage for male bachelor’s graduates was 37 percent greater than high school graduates. By 2005, the income advantage had grown to 50 percent (much of this increase took place from 1995 to 2005). Researchers also noted an income advantage for college and trade school graduates over the same period, but it was much smaller, approximately seven percent in 1980, up to 15 percent in 2005

To have a real impact on the proportion of low-income students in university programs, aid programs need to focus on more than financial assistance delivered at the time of acceptance and entry to university. They need to address the full range of factors that  begin to affect potential higher education students much earlier on in their education.

In 2010, the average cost for undergraduate programs ranged from $2,400 in Quebec to $6,300 in Ontario. Over the past 30 years tuition fees have grown significantly faster than inflation, rising from about $1,900 in 1980 to an average of about $5,100 in 2010 (after inflation). As a result of major changes in the 2000 federal budget and subsequent changes to federal and provincial taxes, the typical full-time student now  has access to far higher levels of support through the tax systems. In 2009, the value of tax credits varied between $1,400 and  about $2,400, depending on the student’s province of residence….there has been a 10-fold increase in the amount of scholarships and bursaries – rising from $150 million in 1990 to about $1.6 billion in 2010-2011 provided by universities to their undergraduate and graduate students……about 30 percent  of all undergraduate students received scholarships or financial awards from their university with an average value of $3,000

Comment

It is not surprising that the AUCC would trumpet the advantages of a university education, but nevertheless the figures are impressive (although there is concern that Canada’s position as a world leader in university attainment is quickly being eroded by growth in other nations.)

Also, although the lifelong learning market has not expanded as rapidly as certainly I expected as a proportion of students, this can still change over the next 10-20 years, because of demographic trends and as the capacity to add even more high school graduates becomes exhausted with more than 60% of a cohort already going on to some form of post-secondary education in some jurisdictions. I also suspect that the categorization of full-time vs part-time is becoming increasingly meaningless as many full-time students are taking jobs to help pay their way through university. Both these trends are likely to lead to continuing demand for flexible access through online learning.

Lastly, there still seem to be gaps in provision, especially for disadvantaged groups in Canada. It is disappointing to see how little growth there has been in aboriginal enrolments in particular, and the report makes it clear that there are still major barriers to university for students from low income families.

This is an extremely useful report (I have summarized only a small part of it) and it provides the broad context in which our online programming will need to operate.

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