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Summer Enrolment Jumps At Canadian Universities Despite Online Shift During Pandemic

Enrolment in spring and summer courses has increased at many Canadian universities despite the shift to e-learning. The boost likely reflects a depressing summer jobs market, but may also raise hopes that e-learning will not produce a steep enrolment drop this fall, as some Canadian university leaders have feared.

The surprising boost, in the absence of regular classes during the pandemic, can be seen throughout the country. At the University of British Columbia, enrolments for its two summer terms is up thirty-two (32) per cent at the Vancouver campus and forty-five (45) per cent at the Okanagan campus.

At the University of Toronto, registration for summer courses has increased to more than twenty (20) per cent compared with last year, and the university is adding classes to meet demand. Dalhousie is up by eight (8) per cent. The University of Winnipeg has doubled its spring course registrations, to more than 3,600 this year from 1,500 the previous year.

Applications for Canadian universities also suggest that interest in fall entrance remains steady, despite the uncertainty or circumstances surrounding whether in-person classes will be possible.

Statistics from the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre reveals that by May 13 more than 469,000 applications had been received from Ontario secondary schools, down only slightly from 473,000 applications in 2019. However, a number of those applications would have been concluded before the long-term implications of coronavirus became clear.

Some universities, including McGill, Concordia, and UBC said last week that fall classes will be mainly online, while others have yet to reveal their plans.

Much remains uncertain, however, as public-health professionals monitor the progress of the pandemic and students and families consider their options for next year. Some Canadian universities say they are hoping to have opportunities for smaller classes to meet physically.

Universities by design create opportunities for young people, diverse population to come into close contact with thousands of others, which complicates their reopening.

As they face a bleak summer jobs market because of economic conditions connected to COVID-19, some students are looking to Canadian universities to fill the void.

Justin Zheng, a fourth-year student at the University of British Columbia, said he enrolled in summer courses in part because the job he hoped to get failed to happen. When examinations ended in April, he worried about how he would engage himself and decided to speed his progress toward a degree.

“It was frightening for me not having anything to do,” Mr. Zheng said.

He said e-earning has its own demerits, but his political-science classes are lecture-based and translate fairly well. One criticism he has is that questions are not answered immediately, which detracts from the process of clarification and collective understanding that he finds effective in regular classes.

He decided against taking one particular class because he believes the absence of a professor would be too hard to overcome.

“The learning environment is easy to take for granted, but once it’s no longer there, you notice how important it was,” Mr. Zheng said.

At the University of Saskatchewan, enrolment is up eleven (11) per cent for the spring and summer, although the university is offering ten (10) per cent fewer classes because of distancing limitations. Patti McDougall, vice-provost teaching, learning and student experience, stated that in a down economy, students tend to view investment in education as worthwhile.

“I think it has a lot to do here with the labour market,” Ms. McDougall said. She also said prospects for fall enrolment are promising. Applications have soared, but the picture will be much clearer once confirmations roll in next month.

“Will our students coming out of high school wish to take a year off? The normal things you would do in a gap year, like travel or work, or volunteer, if those are not really compelling, then I think enroling in university will be a good option,” Ms. McDougall said.

The University of Waterloo generally has one of the biggest spring enrolments and has roughly 19,000 students this year, on the same level with 2019, according to registrar Cathy Newell Kelly.

“I’m not surprised actually that we are trending on the same level with our normal. We’ve been doing online at Waterloo for more than twenty (20) years. 20% of our student body normally takes one or more or even all of their courses online,” she said.