University enrolment down slightly due to COVID-19, says university association

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Enrolment is down slightly at Atlantic Canadian universities, and COVID-19 is the likely culprit.

The Association of Atlantic Universities said in a report that total full-time enrolment at New Brunswick universities is down 0.9 per cent.

Peter Halpin, the executive director of the association, says he believes the COVID-19 pandemic is at the root of the drop in enrolment.

He said the self-isolation imposed on entering the province, plus the move to online learning, may have been more than some students were willing to bear.

"The pandemic hopefully will be behind us sooner rather than later," said Halpin.

"When a vaccine is found and people feel more confident in traveling and campuses reopen as they traditionally have for in–classroom learning and living in residence and that entire student experience, I think you'll see the first year numbers will rise significantly."

Halpin said the falling enrolment numbers were not unexpected, but turned out to be better than predicted earlier in the year.

"The projections simply weren't right," said Halpin.

"This is reflected across the country that domestic enrolments, you know, are down by and large, but they're not down nearly as much as initially anticipated."

Full-time down, part-time up

The survey looks at enrolment numbers year over year and shows some mixed results for New Brunswick.

Full-time undergraduate enrolment was down on average 1.1 per cent in the province while graduate enrolment increased by 1.7 per cent.

But Halpin says the 0.9 per cent drop in overall full-time enrolment is a positive figure in these times.

Total full-time enrolment 2019-10-01 2020-10-01 Change % MAU 2,180 2,205 25 1.1 STU 1,993 1,912 -81 -4.1 UdM 4,466 4,510 44 1.0 UNB 8,341 8,204 -137 -1.6 Total 16,980 16,831 -149 -0.9

"That's, you know, a loss of 149 students, that's very good," said Halpin.

"If you look at that in terms of the rest of the country … that will be seen as a very good result."

The numbers are much lower when looking only at first year students though.

Full-time first year undergraduate student enrolment fell by 16.9 per cent.

"But there's no doubt that a decline of nearly 17 per cent in full-time, first-year, students has very significant implications," said Halpin.

"Students today generally take four to five years to earn their credential. So the loss of those students this year cannot be regained."

On a more positive note, part-time undergraduate enrolment is up substantially by 21.9 per cent, while part-time graduate enrolment grew by 6.2 per cent.

Another positive note is the number of international students which, despite COVID-19 restrictions, grew by 0.5 per cent.