University enrolment continues to rise

Student groups concerned about high tuition

Rising enrolment rates at Canadian universities were hailed Thursday as a future boon to the Canadian economy, but student advocates warned skyrocketing tuition is putting post-secondary education out of reach for many students.

Overall university enrolment increased 3.7 per cent over last year and 57 per cent from 1995, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada reported. There were 898,000 full-time university students registered this fall. That’s good news for the economy, because university graduates represent about a quarter of the working population but are about 40 per cent of the tax base, said association president Paul Davidson.

“To be able to afford the quality of life, the standard of living, the quality of public services that we have in Canada, requires these kind of high-quality jobs that university graduates are getting,” Davidson said.

The rise in undergraduate students ranged from 0.7 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador to 4.5 per cent in British Columbia. The hike in graduate students varied from 1.0 per cent in Manitoba to 17.6 per cent in Prince Edward Island, the report found.

University graduates increase Canada’s productivity and innovation, said Davidson. They also make more money. “Over a lifetime you can expect to earn $1.5 million more if you have a university degree than if you just finished high school,” he said.

They’re also more likely to get jobs in an economy that’s transitioning from being resource based to knowledge based. Over the last 20 years, about 87 per cent of the new professional and management positions created were filled by university graduates while jobs for high school graduates disappeared, the report said.

University graduates also emerged from the recent recession in a better position. From September 2008 until September 2010, there were 280,000 net new jobs for university graduates while almost the same number of jobs — 260,000 — for workers without a degree evaporated.

The enrolment figures were discussed as Davidson and 40 university presidents met Thursday with almost 20 MPs, cabinet ministers and other senior officials on Parliament Hill as part of their annual conference.

Davidson gave the government high marks for the “biggest single capital investment in a generation” in post-secondary infrastructure through the federal stimulus program. His association will seek continued government investment for research as it submits its pre-budget wish list to the Commons Finance Committee next week.

His call for more funding was echoed by The Canadian Federation of Students. Seven in 10 new jobs require a post-secondary education but for some students that’s tough to afford, said the chairwoman of the federation’s Ontario division.

Annual tuition fees vary widely, from about $2,500 in Newfoundland and Labrador to Ontario, where they’re highest at an average of $6,300, said Sandy Hudson. The cost forces some students to drop out. Others are left with staggering debt. “I’m $35,000 in debt and I just finished my post-secondary education, my undergraduate degree, in June,” said Hudson.

Hudson said she’d need to go to graduate school to make use of her sociology and political science degree, but might not be able to afford that. More than 39,000 people have signed the federation’s petition calling on the federal government to create a national post-secondary education act and restore funding for post-secondary education to 1992 levels.

The Canadian Press