University applicants decline

Canadian universities project dramatic decrease following demographic changes

Despite the projected decrease in applicants, Queen’s has seen an increase since 2013.
Despite the projected decrease in applicants, Queen’s has seen an increase since 2013.

Secondary student applications to Ontario universities have declined for the first time since 2004.

The Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC) released its preliminary Undergraduate Application Statistics on Jan. 20, revealing a 0.8 per cent drop in overall applications.

A press release from the Council of Ontario Universities points out a 10.5 per cent increase in the number of non-high school applicants, and states that the drop in secondary student applications was expected based on demographic changes.

“Primarily, I think it’s a reduction in the number of students in the system,” said George Granger, executive director of OUAC.

In 2010, the number of 18-year-olds in Ontario was 180,200. This year, there were 175,800. This number is expected to continue falling through 2020, with an 8.2 per cent drop over a decade.

The decline in 18-year-olds is not limited to Ontario. All provinces will be affected over the next several years, with Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) seeing the most dramatic decrease.

P.E.I. will be the worst affected with a projected fall of 23.8 per cent. In contrast, Ontario will be second only to British Columbia in its lack of significant change.

Whether applications would continue to fall in the future Granger declined to speculate.

“One question will be whether the demographics and the number of students in the system begins to increase in the years ahead,” he said. “Some people think at least a couple years from now that will happen.”

Despite this, the number of people applying to university has also decreased, he added.

“That’s been [decreasing] steadily over the last ten years [and] we think that’ll probably continue, but it’s virtually impossible to look ahead several years and speculate on it.”

Despite an overall decrease in secondary student applications, Queen’s received 20,757 applications in January 2013 and 21,182 in January 2014 — a two per cent overall increase.

As a first and second program choice, it has fallen by 5.5 and 2.8 per cent, respectively.

Amir Eftekarpour, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and vice-president (external) at University of Western Ontario’s University Students’ Council, sees the demographic change as a good thing.

“Historically, at least in Ontario … we’ve [been] negatively incentivized to grow through enrolment growth,” he said. “If the university wants more money, for the past little while the best way to do that was just to get more students,” he said.

Instead, he said OUSA advocates a corridor model of funding “Instead of just funding per student … there’s essentially a target for enrolment per university, and the government will fund them plus or minus three per cent of achieving that target,” he said. “So if you enroll way too many students, then you’re actually not going to get that money.”

Eftekarpour, who is working with AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner Allison Williams to develop the model, also mentioned Queen’s-specific enrolment growth concerns.

“[Enrolment growth] has major implications for things like class sizes, the quality of our education, how many students we can comfortably fit in [residence],” he said.

Eftekarpour said he supports a combination of the corridor model of funding and performance funding, which awards funding based on certain performance indicators.

“Let’s take this opportunity … to really look at how we can more effectively fund [universities],” he said.

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