I hate to change the subject….
But after having reviewed 25 years of data on the university sector in Canada, I think it is probably time for New Brunswickers to start thinking about what they want from the university sector.
In 1992/1993, New Brunswick enrolled 331 university students per 10,000 population ranking the province 4th in Canada among the 10 provinces for university enrollment adjusted for population size – behind NS, QC and MB but ahead of ONT and BC.
In 2017/2018, New Brunswick enrolled 246 university students per 10,000 population ranking the province last in Canada and by a fairly wide margin. The next worst was PEI at 258 per 10,000 population – 16% more than New Brunswick.
In 1999/2000, New Brunswick had 15 university students per 10,000 population enrolled in mathematics, computer and information sciences programs second only to Quebec (16 per 10,000). In 2017/2018, the number in New Brunswick was 9 per 10,000 – second last among the 10 provinces.
According to data published by the Atlantic Association of Universities, New Brunswick has the fewest international students enrolled at university by a wide margin compared to the other three Atlantic Provinces. In 2019 there were 31 international students per 10,000 population less than half the next closest province (NL) and 64% less than PEI and 74% less than NS.
According to Statistics Canada, New Brunswick universities continue to rank last among the 10 provinces in Canada for higher education R&D per capita.
In 1997, New Brunswick universities contributed $561 per capita to the provincial GDP (in real terms) ranking 5th among the 10 provinces. In 2018, New Brunswick universities contributed $710 per capita to the provincial GDP ranking last among the 10 provinces again by a fairly wide margin – the next lowest is Manitoba generating 18% more GDP per capita from universities compared to New Brunswick.
This is not a polemic against New Brunswick universities but trends are trends and when you see long term numbers like this it must force a conversation. Questions that should be asked include:
- Has the reduction in the size and scope of the university sector in New Brunswick been a cause or effect of its relatively weak economic performance?
- Has the reduction in enrollments relative to other provinces in programs such as mathematics, computer and information sciences contributed to the weak performance of our IT sector? We were once pumping out CS grads near the top of the country (adjusted for population size) and now we are at the bottom.
- Is there anything to be done about R&D or are we destined to be last? As one government employee pointed out to me not that long ago (Captain Obvious-esque) – someone has to be last.
- Is government investing enough in the university sector? I don’t have time to crunch the numbers here but it would be interesting to see if the public funding of universities has correlated the decline in relative enrollments. I am told the main reason for the poor R&D performance is the lack of a medical school but we are not the only province without a medical school.
- Why can’t we attract more international students? I am told that many international students would rather study at more prestigious universities in Canada but I struggle with this.
What do we want from our universities?