Maritime university enrolments hang on during the pandemic

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More than 20 per cent of university enrolments in the Maritimes are made up of international students. (Shane Ross/CBC - image credit)
More than 20 per cent of university enrolments in the Maritimes are made up of international students. (Shane Ross/CBC - image credit)

Despite having relied on international students to keep enrolments up in recent years, Maritime universities recorded a slight increase in the number of students during the pandemic, according to a study released Tuesday by the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission.

Enrolment was up 0.5 per cent in 2020-21 over the previous academic year. Commission CEO Catherine Stewart called that a pleasant surprise.

"There were a lot of questions. Obviously the pandemic created a lot of unknowns," said Stewart.

"Would students attend universities if most classes were online, would new students decide to delay their studies or would more young people actually decide to go university because of limited employment prospects?"

Pandemic restrictions made it much harder to attract international students, a concern because that cohort makes up more than 20 per cent of enrolment at Maritime universities.

Enrolment of those students was down across the region, but more Canadian students signed up to balance those losses.

The number of international students decreased by 3.8 per cent compared to 2019-2020, while the number of students from the Atlantic provinces increased by 1.1 per cent and the number of Canadians from the rest of Canada increased by 3.9 per cent.

UPEI sees big growth

Changes in enrolment varied from one province to another.

Enrolments at UPEI were up in almost all categories, with the exception of international graduate students. Overall enrolment was up 5.5 per cent, and for Canadians from outside the Atlantic region it was up 22.7 per cent. The number of international students was up six per cent.

Nova Scotia's growth overall matched the region, at 0.5 per cent, with an increase in Canadian students and a loss of international students.

New Brunswick saw a small increase (0.4 per cent) in international students, but overall enrolment was down 0.9 per cent.

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