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Canadian unis look at capacity as brand Canada remains strong

Higher education institutions across Canada are facing capacity issues as well as challenges around the country's domestic student demographic forecasts.
June 25 2021
3 Min Read

Higher education institutions across Canada are considering how to put new modes of learning into practice as they face capacity issues on campuses and challenges around the country’s domestic student demographic forecasts.

At CBIE’s Growth on the Horizon webinar, experts also pointed to the entry of edtech companies such as Udacity and edX as a challenge traditional education providers will have to meet head on.

“You go to their website and see… ‘study when you want, how you want, get a job or your money guaranteed’, and if you want to study at 2:00 am with a top professor you are able to do that,” IDP Connect senior consultant Mike Henniger said.

“We are seeing this technology play come into place already, and that is going to have to challenge what we do. Most of us in post secondary really need to think about this and be more flexible, because the students that we serve are going to be expecting that more and more and more.”

Search demand across IDP’s web properties – collating over 100 million viewers annually – shows that the Canadian brand remains very strong, Henniger highlighted.

“We are outcompeting every major destination,” he said.

While Australia continues to dip as a result of its closed borders, the election of Joe Biden as US president served as a “huge marketing campaign” for the country. “As we look forward to the coming years, we will the US starting to eat into the Canadian market share significantly,” Henniger suggested.

“We know also that when the Australian border reopens students are going to come flying back to that country and that is going to impact. But overall, we [Canada] are in a very good place, and that is going to take us to some interesting discussions about capacity and how do we leverage this positive brand.”

“We know also that when the Australian border reopens students are going to come flying back to that country”

A couple of capacity issues exist, vice-president partnerships at Camosun College Geoff Wilmshurst noted.

“One is the physical space, we have that conversation all the time at Camosun,” he said. “We have very limited physical space.”

While several new buildings in recent years have helped, the institution is “still below the room capacity we probably need to be in order to meet demand”, he suggested. Offering programs at beyond the usual 9-5 hours could help, he contended, but there is also a need for a “capacity for change”.

“[In Victoria] we are not used to having large numbers of international students on the campus. We’ve reached somewhere close to about 18%, which, when I arrived here 10 years ago, no one imagined we would have that many.”

At George Brown College’s vertical campus in Toronto, with no space or land to expand on to, there is lots of room to think about how to rebalance domestic and international student numbers, vice-president of Strategy & Innovation, Rick Huijbregts said.

Around 30% of George Brown’s student cohort is international.

“We actually see a trending decline of domestic applicants and domestic students,” he said, but Covid has also brought with it lessons.

“Why be limited to our physical campus in downtown Toronto? Are there different ways to expand opportunities for international students both in Canada but also outside Canada?” Huijbregts suggested. “Our strength really is our hands on experiences and our lab spaces and things we have.”

Finding a new balance and supplementing “higher quality” on campus experiences and interactions with complementary online or virtual experiences is where traditional providers can differentiate from specialist online schools, he continued.

“We are trying to have a holistic view as to how do we maximise opportunities for international students to come and have a George Brown experience knowing our limitations, yet looking for expandable business models that I think we have to embark on to remain competitive as well.”

“With new ways of teaching and learning [we can] make better use of our campus as we have it today”

“We get so caught up in everyone needing to be in Canada by September 4, or whatever it is, that [puts] huge demands on our airports and our immigration systems. If we were able to lengthen that time out a little bit… [it would help]. I think that this last 18 months has shown us that we can do things differently,” Wilmshurst said.

While demographic models suggest that domestic student numbers are expected to increase rapidly from 2023, with more moderate rises from 2027-38, hybrid and blended delivery could free up capacity, Huijbregts suggested.

“We are effectively freeing up physical capacity that I think will make room for both a return to healthy numbers or moderate growth on the domestic, yet still provide an opportunity to increase opportunities to international students… With new ways of teaching and learning [we can] make better use of our campus as we have it today.”

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