Jammed universities to face shortage of students in future

By Colin Perkel

TORONTO (CP) - Canadian universities, bulging at the seams with students and worried about finding faculty to teach them, could find themselves with the opposite problem in a few years, says a noted demography expert: empty classes and a glut of professors.

And it won't be as a result of generous government funding or clever public policy, demographer and author David Foot told a conference of Ontario university faculty members.

"If the government waits long enough, the problem will solve itself," Foot said. "Ten years from now, we may be talking about a whole new era."

Strong enrolment numbers at Canadian universities of late have been largely driven by the children of baby boomers, that massive cohort born after the Second World War but before the use of the birth control pill became widespread.

That "echo generation" has been moving into the university system in recent years, but will soon be moving out of it, said Foot, a professor of economics at the University of Toronto and author of the popular Boom, Bust and Echo books.

In November, Statistics Canada reported that university enrolment across the country had surpassed the one-million mark for the first time in 2004-05, fuelled in part by a growing number of young adults in the country.

"Don't presume that today's situation is going to persist," Foot said Friday at a conference organized by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.

"Demand may well be going down as the baby boom echo leaves our system."

The moderating effect should be most pronounced in Ontario, where the scrapping of Grade 13 created a surge in first-time students in 2003.

"Right now, we're in the very worst possible situation," said Foot, who slammed the former Conservative government's decision to do away with Grade 13 in the midst of the baby-boom echo as "stupid public policy."

"Five years from now, the echo is gone, the double cohort is gone; we may be facing an entirely different external environment."

Data indicate Ontario's current enrolment is a whopping 40 per cent higher than it was in 2000-01. And last week, the Council of Ontario Universities reported that demand continues to rise.

Applicants for admission to the province's universities in 2007 were up 5.2 per cent over 2006 and 11.7 per cent over 2004, latest figures show.

"The number of applicants exceeded projections, as they had in 2006 and 2005," the council said. "The increased demand poses significant challenges for the university sector."

While a higher percentage of high school graduates have been opting for universities, Foot said that trend will also likely slow and may even begin to reverse.

Employers are increasingly demanding non-academic or more practical skills from newcomers, which will tend to press students leaving high school into apprenticeships and trades, he said. Governments have also been busy creating incentives for college applicants in hopes of taking the pressure off the university system.

Ontario universities have also been sounding the alarm over how to replace aging faculty, especially with tight hiring budgets.
Statistics show about half of all full-time faculty are over the age of 50; about 15 per cent are over the age of 60.
Foot said those concerns about faculty shortages should ease as well.
The end of mandatory retirement in Ontario that took effect this year should mean a 15 per cent increase in faculty over what otherwise might have been expected, he said.
"That will get us over the hump," said Foot. "That will get us through this decade into the next decade and in fact we may be then buying out the faculty to get them to leave."
i kinda wonder why they are so jammed. my cousin goes to university of western ontario and he said last year altogether it cost him around 12000 or more...just one year. how the heck are they able to pay for this? especially if its like a four year degree-that could put you like really in the hole? its cheaper i think to go to a college then a university!

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