For many Canadian universities increasing enrolment has been a point of pride but David Foot, author of Boom, Bust and Echo, recently told the Ryerson Eyeopener that due to Canada’s changing demographics “over the next two, three, four years the number of enrollments will start to decline.”
We’re already seeing this to a certain extent here in Quebec. English universities are increasingly attempting to attract Francophones because there is little room for growth in the Anglophone community. As well many Canadian universities are recruiting more and more international students to keep growth rates high. While the recent economic slowdown has pushed enrolment rates up, as the economy slowly recovers, and as those returning to school graduate, this factor will diminish.
Canadian universities are already becoming highly competitive when it comes to recruiting students from other parts of the country, open any student newspaper and you’ll see ads from other universities. Concordia ads have been spotted in Truro N.S. and while I was editor-in-chief of the Concordian student newspaper last year I received several emails from various universities encouraging me to apply for their journalism programs. This competition will only increase if enrolment drops and advertising and recruitment costs money that could be used for education.
Many, if not most, Canadian universities are carrying long-term debt in the millions of dollars and are counting on increasing enrolment to help pay off these debts. Lower enrolment will leave universities short of funds to maintain their infrastructure, teaching staff and pay off their debts.
Also, we’re currently in a period where universities are carrying out major construction projects. As part of the economic stimulus program the federal government is in the process of pumping $2 billion into university infrastructure and provinces are doing the same. Quebec alone is putting in more than $600 million. Now, not all of this money is going towards new buildings but a lot of it is. If enrolment drops will our expanded universities start to look like ghost towns?