Post-Secondary Education Trends

Brandon University is affected by the many trends in post-secondary education (PSE).

In 2007-2008, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC, 2008) published a three volume series on trends in PSE. Several other publications have outlined trends affecting the PSE sector (e.g., Billing, 2004; Lebeau, Stumpf, Brown, Lucchesi, & Kwiek, 2012; Mayhew, 2013; McArthur, 2010). Based on these documents and other research, trends in post-secondary education can be clustered into the following areas:

  • Competition for domestic and international students is becoming fiercer. The Statistics Canada (2007) report, entitled Postsecondary Enrolment Trends to 2031: Three Scenarios, provides three different scenarios for projections of college and university enrolments for the population aged between 17 and 29 years. Each of these scenarios points to increased competition for domestic students in Canadian universities.
  • In 2011, the Aboriginal population, consisting of First Nations Peoples, Metis and Inuit, was 157,740 or 14 percent of Manitoba’s total population (Statistics Canada, 2011a). Between 55 percent and 65 percent of the Aboriginal population aged 18-44 years plans to return to school or to take further training. Across Canada, the average age of the Aboriginal population is less than that of the overall population, with 18.2 percent in the age range of 15 to 24 years as compared with 12.9 percent in the general population. At Brandon University, 13-15 percent of the student population self-identify as members of an Aboriginal community. It can be anticipated that the number of Aboriginal students in the age range15to 24 years aiming to attend post-secondary educational institutions in Manitoba will increase.
  • Between 2006 and 2011, the City of Brandon has experienced a strong population growth of about 11 percent to over 46,000 and, in 2014, at about 53,000 as compared with the provincial growth rate of 5.2 percent over the same period. The region’s immigrant population is growing.
  • Brandon University plays an important role in rural education in Manitoba. Statistics Canada (2011b) data estimate the rural population of Manitoba at 333,554 for 2011, a number that has been relatively stable over the past 50 years (e.g., the rural population was 332,879 in 1961). The urban population in Manitoba over this time period has significantly increased, reaching 874,714 in 2011 as compared with 588,807 in 1961.
  • A Statistics Canada factsheet (2012) shows tertiary (college or university) education attainment at about 46 percent within Manitoba compared to a high of 58 percent in Ontario and 51 percent overall across Canada. University degree attainment for Manitoba is 18.4 percent compared to the high of 24.7 percent for Ontario and a Canada-wide average of 22.2 percent.
  • Individuals in the workforce within Manitoba as a whole, and Brandon and southwestern Manitoba in particular, are competing for opportunities at national and global levels, with professional advancement that is often dependent on possessing post-secondary education at the undergraduate or graduate level.
  • There are financial pressures for government funding and tuition freezes or reductions when adjusted for operating cost inflation. In addition for some universities, pension plan actuarial deficits are demanding that up to 10 percent of operating budget be channeled into pension sustainability funding.
  • Research costs are accelerating, while funding opportunities are shrinking, and universities are required to establish research strategies as part of the Tri-Council framework. Brandon University recently completed its Research Strategic Plan with a focus on community-engaged research.
  • Across Canada, community colleges are increasingly being permitted to offer applied degrees. Most provinces have established educational goals and degree classification frameworksbased on the Ministerial Statement on Quality Assurance of Degree Education that emerged from the Council of Ministers of Education in 2007. A drive towards university accountability, differentiation, and specialization is evident in response to the government-articulated mandate of the PSE sector (e.g., the U15 drive across Canada and the university differentiation framework in Ontario).
  • Universities play an important part in fostering innovation, productivity gains, and prosperity within society. Brandon University is viewed as an important partner and catalyst for community and economic development within the southwestern Manitoba region.
  • We are experiencing increased information technological sophistication of students, rising in-class and distance technology-augmented courses, and varying readiness on the part of faculty and staff to adopt new technological changes (including changes in Campus Manitoba towards facilitating more credit transfer through increased online courses and inter-institutional mobility).
  • Society is re-evaluating the value of university relative to community college or apprenticeship training, and concerns are rising about youth unemployment and job permanency in the wake of raising student debt and perceived diminished capacity to attain parents’ standard of living.
  • There are growing institutional domestic and international strategic partnerships to realize opportunities for joint academic programs, collaborative research, and shared infrastructure and operating costs (e.g., the Brandon University and Assiniboine Community College Memorandum of Understanding for collaborative programming).
  • Globalization demands that education prepare students to be global citizens, and students expect universities to meet national as well as international standards.
  • Students expect universities to provide them with the critical skills and practical training to gain employment while attaining knowledge and understanding through lifelong learning.
  • Tri-Council funding emphasizes the training of highly qualified personnel (e.g., graduate students) in the determination of research funding allocation. Additionally, universities within Canada are competing for these funds along with the acknowledgement of arguments for research funding to be tilted towards U15 (i.e., the top 15 research institutions within Canada) and away from teaching and learning-focused universities. The importance of research, scholarly and creative activities in informing teaching and learning outcomes at universities is widely accepted, suggesting that a teaching university must move towards being a teaching and research-oriented institution if the interests of students are to be served effectively.

These trends affecting universities are combined with mounting broad social and institutional issues. Western society has generally viewed education as a key mechanism for social mobility. The rising concentration of wealth has challenged this notion even though education continues to be a key determinant of income and standards of living. Similarly, studies such as Fein (2014) and “Glastris et al.” (2011) have recently found that liberal arts and science education is less likely to support social mobility than professional/career-oriented education in the absence of the pre-existing social network, including parents having completed post-secondary education. As a result, it is not surprising that first generation students look towards the completion of professional and career-oriented programs over liberal arts programs.

On the other hand, liberal arts and science programs focus on literacies and critical thinking skills that are crucial for upward mobility within the job setting. Critical thinking skill development, inherent in liberal arts and science education, is also crucial for broad civic and leadership contributions. Therefore, universities often struggle to find the right balance between liberal arts/science and professional programs to meet their students’ needs. Superimposed on these considerations are institutional issues in the arena of change management.

Faced with budget pressures, government demands for reduction in program redundancies, and transition towards programs demanded by students, universities have developed approaches from doing nothing (hoping the problems will be addressed by another generation of faculty members and administers) to program prioritization processes. While it may be easy or even justifiable to be critical of either extreme, academic plans are as much about how university faculty, staff, students and others come together to collaborate in making collegial decisions about the future of the university as they are about what decisions are actually made. The aim of Brandon University’s Academic Plan is to build a shared vision, a consensus that supports the building of a university that is collaborative and collegial as much as it is innovative and leading among peer institutions.