Ag, resources enrolments up at universities: StatsCan

Enrolment in Canadian universities’ ag and natural resources programs, especially by women, rose for 2007-08 at a rate well above universities’ overall average, compared to the previous year.

Which arguably isn’t saying much, as enrolment in university programs overall rose just 0.6 per cent in that time — a number Statistics Canada describes as a “much slower rate of growth” compared to the annual average increase of 2.9 per cent since 1998-99.

Statistics Canada, in its report Monday on university enrolment for 2007-08, found enrolment in programs in the “agriculture, natural resources and conservation” category rose 2.2 per cent to 15,975 in 2007-08, up from 15,630 in 2006-07.

Enrolment by women in that category again surpassed that of men, increasing 2.5 per cent to 8,985 for 2007-08. Men’s enrolments in that category in the same period rose just 1.8 per cent to 6,987. (Combined totals also include students of unknown gender.)

The increased enrolments by women in ag- and resources-related programs become more apparent over the slightly longer term, increasing 14.2 per cent from 2002-03 (7,869) to 2007-08. Men’s enrolments increased just four per cent during that time, from 6,720 in 2002-03.

Overall, enrolment growth in 2007-08 was more marked in enrolment in graduate, master’s and doctorate studies, while enrolment in undergraduate university programs overall dropped 0.1 per cent from 2006-07.

“Qualifications”

The increase in the number of degrees, diplomas and certificates awarded in agriculture, natural resources and conservation programs in 2007 over 2006 was also somewhat above the overall average for Canadian university programs, StatsCan said Monday.

The total number of qualifications awarded in that category in 2007 reached 3,864, up 7.5 per cent from 2006 and 5.6 per cent from 2002. University qualifications awarded overall, meanwhile, reached 241,551, up 6.9 per cent from 2006 and up 29.5 per cent from 2002.

Again, the increase was greater in the number of women receiving qualifications in the ag and resources category, with 2,238 awarded in 2007, up 9.9 per cent from 2006 and 16.2 per cent from 2002.

Qualifications awarded to men in the ag and resources category reached 1,629 in 2007, up just 4.6 per cent from 2006 and down 5.9 per cent from 1,731 in 2002.

StatsCan’s numbers don’t break down the agriculture, natural resources and conservation category into more specific fields of study. (Nor do the overall figures include data for the University of Regina, which doesn’t have a dedicated agriculture program but also didn’t provide data to StatsCan.)

“More jobs than employees”

Others have observed, however, that in terms of agriculture programs specifically, enrolments continue to decline relative to the number of jobs in the ag sector requiring college or university qualifications.

“With the industry at an exciting position where the potential for biotechnology and especially bioproducts is immense, we’ll need a well educated workforce which understands agriculture,” said Kelly Daynard, an Ontario ag communications consultant and Nuffield scholar, in March.

“Already there are more jobs than employees and unless we do something to alleviate the stereotype that ‘an agricultural degree is only for farmers,’ this problem will just get worse,” said Daynard, who plans to use her Nuffield study tour this year to find ways to raise the profile of ag studies.

The University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College agrees, noting last month that “enrollment in post-secondary agriculture programs across North America has declined in recent years, resulting in challenges for existing and emerging human resource needs.”

OAC announced a new student recruitment and awareness campaign last month in a bid to reverse that trend.

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