According to the AAU 2020-21 Preliminary Survey of Enrolments, full-time enrolment (undergraduate and graduate) declined by 1.3% (-1,023) students year-over-year while full-time visa students declined 6.6% (-1,264) during the same period.
“Many first-year students opted to go part-time because of travel restrictions and uncertainty about their adaptability to virtual learning”
Speaking about the results, recteur of Université Sainte-Anne, Allister Surette, said that once universities were past the immediate response to the pandemic during the Spring semester and began planning in most cases for delivery of online learning in the fall semester, “some declines were expected”.
However, Surette noted, “the decline in domestic students is not nearly as significant as initially projected. In fact, many of our universities reported incremental increases in total enrolment.”
Travel restrictions, and the temporary closure of visa processing offices worldwide, seriously affected the enrolment of international students in all but six universities (Atlantic School of Theology, Dalhousie University, Mount Saint Vincent University, Mount Allison University, University of New Brunswick and University of Prince Edward Island).
“The importance of visa students to the internationalisation of our campuses as well as their cultural, social and economic impacts in communities across the region cannot be overstated,” said Surette, adding that “international students are critically important to regional population growth”.
Research conducted by the AAU among graduating international students in 2017 revealed that 65% would like to stay in the region following their graduation.
He said the AAU is thankful for the federal government’s decision to ease travel restrictions on international students, adding that “our universities are establishing plans to welcome international students back to campus safely and are fully-equipped to place them in the required 14-day quarantine upon their arrival”.
The most concerning enrolment decline occurred among full-time first-year students, down 10.5% year-over-year (-1,477).
Surette explained that this will have a significant impact on enrolment and institutional sustainability over the next three-to-four years.
There was, however, a significant increase in part-time enrolment of 19.6% (+2,438).
“One could hypothesise that many first-year students opted to go part-time because of travel restrictions and uncertainty about their adaptability to virtual learning versus traditional in classroom learning,” said Surette.
“We continue to work closely with provincial health authorities to ensure our campus communities remain safe for everyone.
“At the same time, we are focused on cost control and investment in the quality and delivery of online, in-person and hybrid learning as we adapt to what remains an uncertain operating environment.”
Surette concluded that any enrolment decline is a concern, especially among first-year and international students.
However, he said the results “illustrate the strength and stability of the university sector in Atlantic Canada at a time when the pandemic has had a devastating effect on so many people and other sectors”.
Established in 1964, the AAU is a voluntary association of the 16 universities in the Atlantic region and in the West Indies.