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Shrinking job market sending people back to school

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

Demand for university spots in Ontario is increasing, driven by applications to Toronto campuses and interest from mature and returning students looking to go back to class in the face of grim financial news.

Applications from high-school students are up by 1.1 per cent this year to 84,300, new figures show. The interest from those returning to school is more dramatic, with early numbers showing a 10-per-cent jump in these applications, a sign that a shrinking job market is prompting people to hit the books.

"This is good news for the Ontario economy," said Paul Genest, president of the Council of Ontario Universities. The rising interest for higher education, he said, means the province will be better equipped to meet the needs of a changing economy. The challenge, Mr. Genest said, is to find ways to meet the demand.

Yesterday's news was better for some universities than for others. The numbers show a wide variation in interest across the province, with double-digit increases at most Toronto campuses and a drop in applications to schools in other regions of the province. It's a trend that has been growing for several years and is likely to make it more difficult to gain a spot at universities in the country's largest city.

Toronto's population is increasing and some suggested yesterday that many local students may be trying to trim their expenses by attending a university closer to home.

At Ryerson University, first-choice applications from high- school students are up 10.5 per cent at a time when the school is not planning to add undergraduate spaces. Interest from those not in high school is even higher. Applications from this group, which does not have to meet the same early deadline as high-school students, is already up by 19 per cent, Ryerson president Sheldon Levy said.

"It is going to be extreme this year," Mr. Levy said when asked about competition for spaces. "Undoubtedly, there are a growing number of people who would benefit from a Ryerson program who we are going to have to turn away."

Numbers are up by 4.3 per cent at the University of Toronto, and applications to the University of Guelph's Toronto campus at Humber College increased by 22 per cent. It was the same story at the Ontario College of Art and Design, which received 21 per cent more first-choice applications.

The only exception to this Toronto trend was York University, which is in the grip of a two-month-old strike, and experienced a drop in applications of 15 per cent.

Interest was down at several universities outside Toronto, including Brock, Nipissing, Trent and Wilfrid Laurier.

McMaster University had an 8-per-cent increase, and the University of Guelph had a 6.5-per-cent rise in applications to both of its sites, with interest high in new engineering and nanoscience programs.

Across the province, high-school students are showing a preference for fields that involve caring for people and the planet, and a decided cooling toward the business world.

Demand for first-year nursing spots jumped 11.2 per cent, followed by a 10.2-per-cent increase in social work programs and an 8.5-per-cent rise in environmental studies. Business programs saw applications fall by 9.1 per cent.

This year's numbers are the highest since two high-school classes graduated at the same time because of the elimination of Grade 13.

Mr. Genest said if the demand from those not in high school continues, their numbers will exceed the record set last year at about 44,000.

Postsecondary application

With the economic downturn, many people have decided to increase their employment value by upgrading their education.


Thousands of applications in these disciplines

Jan. 15, 2009 +/- % change

Business admin.-5.2
Fine & applied arts+4.1
Phys. & health edu.+1.5


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